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Hancock's Half Hour - Review

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by Tony Collins (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer specialising mainly in health and education and living in Staffordshire. Find me on Linked In
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New show proves that great comedy never diminishes with age
More than six decades after a certain radio show first hit the airwaves to signal the forerunner of the modern sitcom, the genius that was Tony Hancock is still packing a punch today. His self-styled Hancock's Half Hour radio show ran on the then BBC Light Programme for half a dozen series from 1954 to 1961, later making the switch to television, and in so doing also made stars of fellow comedy legends such as Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques. Happily for fans of 'the lad himself', Hancock and his entourage are currently enjoying a welcome revival in the form of a new live stage show which I got to see at the Lichfield Garrick theatre on Saturday 16 March.

Hancock's Half Hour
The full cast of Hancock's Half Hour

Hancock's Half Hour, produced by Apollo Theatre Company - who have already given us stage shows of other classic radio comedies, The Goon Show and Round the Horne - is a delightful and suitably funny tribute to Tony Hancock to mark the 50th anniversary of his tragic death. This stage production, expertly produced and directed by Tim Astley, recreates three episodes from Hancock's classic radio show, written by the up and coming Ray Galton and Alan Simpson in which the Birmingham comedian plays a less successful version of himself.

Hancock's Half Hour
James Hurn as Tony Hancock (centre), alongside Tom Capper as Bill Kerr and Laura Crowhurst as Hattie Jacques

Dead Ringers impressionist James Hurn is superbly cast as Tony Hancock as the star turn in each of the three radio show episodes performed at the Lichfield Garrick. He is aided by a splendid bunch of actors as Hancock's fictional home, 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, comes to life on stage. Particularly impressive, again, was Colin Elmer who reprises his role from Round the Horne as Kenneth Williams, while fellow comedy greats Sid James and Hattie Jacques are also well portrayed by Ben Craze and Laura Crowhurst, the latter of whom starred on her previous Garrick appearance in Crimes of the Christmas Pudding last December. The excellent cast is completed by Tom Capper as Australian comic Bill Kerr, who plays Hancock's live in lodger in the radio shows, and Clive Greenwood who provides the BBC announcements and sound effects.

Hancock's Half Hour
Clive Greenwood (left) and James Hurn as Hancock reprise the famous Blood Donor sketch

Clive also appears as the doctor in the evening's 'bonus', a short excerpt from Hancock's classic blood donor sketch in which he delivers the immortal line "a pint, that's nearly an armful". The Hancock's Half Hour episodes performed as part of the stage show are "Hancock in the Police", "The Americans Hit Town", and a particularly hilarious "The Wild Man of the Woods". In all three episodes, Sid James is portrayed as a crook and a rogue, Hattie Jacques appears as Hancock's secretary Miss Griselda Pugh, while Kenneth Williams takes on a variety of entertaining roles from a police sergeant and US army colonel to an inspector from the Ministry of Housing.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Hancock's Half Hour
Left to right: Tom Capper as Bill Kerr, James Hurn as Tony Hancock and Ben Craze as Sid James

Forthcoming shows

18-19 March Theatre Royal Windsor
20 March Churchill Theatre Bromley
21 March Norwich Playhouse Norwich
22-23 March Barn Theatre Southwick
24 March Theatre Royal Winchester
27 March Everyman Theatre Cheltenham
28 March Red House Theatre Plymouth
29 March Launceston Town Hall Launceston
31 March Royal Hippodrome Eastbourne
1 April Kings Theatre Portsmouth
2-3 April Capitol Theatre Horsham
4-6 April Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford
7 April Leicester Square Theatre London
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Why? A Reminder Of The Glory Days Of Radio Comedy
When: 16 March to 7 April
Phone: 01543 412121
Where: Lichfield Garrick, Castle Dyke, Lichfield WS13 6HR
Cost: Lichfield tickets cost 20
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