|Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show|
|Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke|
|Thursday, 06 September 2012 19:20|
Rowan Atkinson certainly deserves a tribute show. And now he's got one, called RATS (appropriately, Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show). Atkinson, of course, appears to have been born with the kind of rubber face that virtually dictated a future in comedy. But it's one thing to have the face and quite another to exploit its full potential.
To emulate that, let alone the man's almost innate and uncanny ability in the realm of physical comedy and mime, is a tall order and it's inevitable that Gabriel McCarthy only partially succeeds, in approximating such. What the show succeeds in, above all, is motivating one to revisit the genius of the original, so it certainly works for Mr Atkinson. It's also a potent reminder of the collective simpatico between writers Atkinson, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. (I can barely tolerate Elton flying solo, but this company seemed to bring out his best; not really encountered since, other than in, perhaps, The Young Ones.) This nostalgia is effected through the presentation of a baker's dozen or so of Atkinson's standout sketches, hailing from Rowan Atkinson in Review, staged at the Globe Theatre in London, and elsewhere, between 1981 and 1986.
All of this in one of Sydney's best new rooms: the Bordello Theatre, on the penultimate floor of the refurbished Kings Cross Hotel. In fact, it's all-red interior could hardly provide a better setting for the opening vignette, A Warm Welcome Into Hell. What McCarthy lacks is Atkinson's debonair understatement and impeccable timing: he nervously pushes through all the material, often fluffing words and seeming to lose the sense that slowing things down might afford more precision and actually make things funnier; after all, the Atkinson style isn't characterised by a Keystone Cops tempo. Please don't think I'm unappreciative of the immense demands of living up to the nuanced performance standards of an icon, but if one's going to make the attempt, one needs to be very, very confident of successful realisation. Otherwise, again, the net effect is but to underscore the brilliance of the mould, which was probably thrown away after Atkinson was made.
The show's produced by Gabriel McCarthy (who features as a kind of straight man) and Stephen Carnell, and directed by Carnell, who needs, beyond opening night, to get his main man to chill; even if The Devil, or Toby, as he seems to prefer, likes to keep things infernal.
While costume and props are, on the whole, of a highly imaginative and resourceful standard, important details seem to have been overlooked. As The Devil, for example, Atkinson is clad in a smoking jacket, connoting a further sense of ease that's even funnier. To a large extent, it cues and flags the comedy to come. Sure, it's particularly difficult in the confronting intimacy of The Bordello's cabaret-style setup, but when Atkinson's eyes follow imaginary off-stage characters, you're practically convinced they're there; McCarthy isn't nearly so convincing or self-assured. Still, it's sobering to be reminded the punishment for sin is damnation without relief. That's right, there are no toilets in hell, which means you'll probably sweat even more.
Among the stronger performances is Fatal Beatings, in which an originally Scottish headmaster gently breaks the news to a concerned parent that his son has been inadvertently beaten to death. Atkinson's Scot is far from perfect, but more consistent than Arico, who has a marked tendency to duck and weave in and out of an English accent into a broadly Aussie one.
One of the finer points of Atkinson's rendition of A Day In The Life Of The Invisible Man is his bodily buffeting on a moving train, even before the comedy proper comes online. This is lost, although McCarthy's exaggeration of The Invisible Man's intrusions on his person are performed exceptionally well.
Performed far less well is Invisible Drum Kit: Atkinson does it with immaculate precision, whereas McCarthy's near-enough-is-good-enough approach just doesn't cut the mustard, on any level and, unless he can hone the sketch it's probably best dropped.
Elementary Dating is as much a platform for Arico's deadpan talents as McCarthy's histrionic ones. But McCarthy's creative adaptation of this particular scenario is one of his strongest suits; in fact, his wine tasting is better than RA's, as is most of his dancing. It wins him a lot of points.
Probably the finest reproduction is of Noone Called Jones, the infamous roll call imbued with toilet humour at which one can't help but chortle, inspite of oneself. Since it relies on but three essentials: the writing itself, over-enunciation and a po-faced delivery, it has a better chance of success, right off the bat. Not that the degree of difficulty of these should be underestimated. McCarthy shaped-up well, but the fact is none can really touch the sides of Atkinson's inimitability (not just a cliche, in his case), try as they might.
Father Of The Bride was executed creditably, too, but McCarthy isn't really quite old enough to feign the embittered, inebriated, outspoken gravitas Atkinson effects. Similarly, for Pink Tights And Plenty Of Props (in which Jeremy Iron's near-cameo is stolen by Hugo Weaving), the dummy's guide to Shakespeare, he isn't quite up to the requisite foppishness to begin with, but picks up with his evocation of different types of kings.
We Are Most Amused is again primarily down to the script, but still needs the stereotypical vicarishness excess as a precursor to real success in the role. McCarthy doesn't really get there.
Sneezing in Church harks back to the very first Mr Bean tv episode. With this character, of course, Atkinson exploits his facial and other physical endowments maximally, pushing to the comedic limit and well past it. Again, McCarthy can't help but be a relatively pale imitation next to this.
It's because of the material, above all, that this show gets laughs. For the performer/s involved, the risk is coming off looking second-best, like Antipodean would-be-if-we could-be British comedians. Needless to say, that's not a good look and is one, for the most part, we left behind a long, long time ago.
A Blancmange Production
Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show
by Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Director Stephen Carnell
Venue: The Bordello Theatre, Level 4, Kings Cross Hotel, corner William and Victoria Streets, Kings Cross
Dates: Opens 5 September, then Wednesdays from 26 September – 28 November 2012
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