Tipping the Hat
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
There is a discernible line of English eccentricity runs from the topsy-turvy wordplay of WS Gilbert, through the cheeky sophistication of Noel Coward to the humorous quotidian lyrics of Michael Flanders. The latter, in partnership with friend and composer Donald Swann, produced a string of comic songs that delighted live audiences throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Flanders and Swann are the subject of this witty production (written and directed by John Bett) that sparkles with some of their most celebrated collaborations, “The Hippopotamus Song”, “The Gasman Cometh”, “The Gnu Song” and many, many more. The stage is set like a Victorian parlour with red velvet drapes, dried flowers and a grand piano but any formality is immediately subverted by sound problems with the keyboard and the affectionate teasing of the performers as they introduce each other to the audience.
Both actors appear as themselves, verbally sparring in a genteel fashion as they tell the story of Flanders and Swann. When called upon to perform a song (which they do exceedingly well) a bearded John Jack takes the Flanders’ part while Gordon Cree sings and tinkles the ivories wearing a diffident Swann’s round Billy Bunter glasses. This is a clever device that takes the duo beyond mere tribute status and allows Jack in particular, to bring a frantic physical comedy to the proceedings using a variety of props, as well as a bit of gesticulating, Scottish luvvie banter.
The songs may be familiar but their performance is fresh and lively. And there’s politics too. An ironic discourse delivered on Dr Beeching’s massacre of the rail system, followed by a rendering of “Slow Train”, listing some of the stations that came under his axe, turns out to be a genuinely moving lament. Another surprising gem is Swann’s original tune to “A Red, Red Rose” delivered warmly in a soft bass baritone by Cree. With plenty of apposite details on the lives of the two entertainers sandwiched between the humour and iconic songs, this is a show that enlightens and entertains in equal measure.
A top piece of hat tipping, brimming with fun.
David G Moffat