Pete And Dud: Come Again - The Venue, Leicester Square
For many, ourselves included, the introduction to the work of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore came through howls of adolescent laughter at some of the most inventive filth ever to creep through the headphones. Not finding the idea of retreiving lobsters from Jayne Mansfield's bottom hysterically amusing would immediately set you out as being of slightly less cool than the Dungeons & Dragons crowd.
But Derek and Clive were from a generation who woremore sensible clothing and there were other factors to consider, like trying to watch 10, without being caught. We failed. So an invitation to see the new London production of Pete and Dud: Come Again came as an interesting opportunity to catch up on some background, as well as hopefully laughing till the crustaceans crept from our cracks.
The play takes place during a fictionalised TV chat show on which Kevin Bishop's Dudley Moore is promoting his latest film, Arthur, and through a series of flashbacks tells the story of his partnership and eventual estrangement with Peter Cook. That is until an old mate arrives, drunk, in the middle of shooting. Ostensibly this is a tragedy of sorts, the tale of one man's disillusionment and deterioration into drunken disaffection told through the eyes of another who, although once willing to cross the lines they did, preferred to let the bright lights of Hollywood cover his retreat from the alcoholism that was destroying his old partner in crimes against taste.
Whilst Bishop's Moore takes a little getting used to, Tom Goodman-Hill's Cook, is a top notch piss head, bitterly and unsuccesfully seeking resolution on his own terms, and ultimately both succeed in bringing life to two such difficult and iconic characters. Alexander Kirk's Chat show host, Ferguson, is a wonderful mix of Parky, Wogan and that orange funriture bloke, whilst the remaining three cast members, Fergus Craig, Colin Holt and Mark mansfield pull off a succession of directors, barkeepers, stage hands and a most amusing Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Leicester Square's The Venue (right next door to the Prince Charles) feels like a TV studio and provides an excellent setting so that even the audience has to get in character.
The action bounces along merrily, taking in the salient moments from the pair's life together from Beyond The Fringe through to Bedazzled and their final recording. Each moment allows writers Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde to examine the development of their comedy, principally Cook's razor sharp tongue and Moore's straight (-ish) man act as well as the deterioration of their friendship, seen by Moore as Cook's inability to cope with Moore's success although implicitly indicting his own detachment and distractions such as romping with Raquel Welch. Ultimately with no resolution, other than the sad outcome we already know, neither was willing to extend the hand of friendship from out of the worlds they had chosen, the fingers remain pointed all around, although it would have been nice perhaps to have seen a little more of their reactions to the public reaction to their work. Still, it's a small criticism for a very funny, bittersweet glance at their self-destructive relationship, tightly handled by director Owen Lewis. For a press night, the laughter flowed like the drinks in Cook's hotel mini bar, which is always a good sign. And, as if you should need another reason to go, it allows the team to recreate brief moments from some of their sketches, tantalising snippets of unhinged, fermented genius and a grand excuse to revisit Derek and Clive Get The Horn when you get home.