Guildford-based Apollo Theatre Company tip a highly respectful hat to the cult BBC radio show, Round the Horne, in their superb tribute stage show. Now doing its fifth UK tour, the show appears for one night only at the King’s Theatre to a pretty full house – an impressive feat considering the state of play with Covid.
Though the 1960s was a time of great change, it was also a time of near monoculture before the dizzying multi- channel choices of now. It was in that time that Round the Horne had a regular Sunday afternoon slot on the Light programme (later to become Radios 1 and 2) that was de rigueur entertainment to millions across the UK. Not everyone attended the kirk but folk could still sing from the same hymn sheet by knowing the catch phrases from popular programmes of the time. Round the Horne had them in spades.
Lovingly recreated for the stage by director Tim Astley, the original programme created by Barry Took and Marty Feldman is brought to life by the five-strong cast. Staying true to the show’s original format and host of original characters, it recreates surreal parodies of contemporary celebrities and events of the day along with spoof movies, plays, and answers to non-existent quizzes.
With three big mics at the front of the stage to give the impression of a radio recording studio, the cast take turns stepping up to the mics to take on the array of sublimely ridiculous characters, including Dame Celia Molestrangler, ageing juvenile Binkie Huckaback, and the massively popular Rambling Syd Rump. The appearance of the outrageously camp duo Julian and Sandy also serves as a reminder of how the original show popularised the use of polari at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK.
Round the Horne’s immaculately chosen cast of Darren Street as the plummy and slightly bored Kenneth Horne; Alex Scott Fairley as the versatile Hugh Paddick; Nick Wymer as presenter and inanimate object player Douglas Smith; Eve Winters as the token gal yet one of the boys, Betty Marsden, and Colin Elmer as the gloriously camp Kenneth Williams, bring together highlights of a golden era of comedy.
Another treat is Margate duo Java Jive (Rachel Davies and Anthony Coote), who fill the role of the Frase Hayes Four – the close-harmony group who had a musical slot in the original show – while also providing side stage foley.
Round the Horne managed the paradox of ostensibly conservative men in suits crashing conventions in a kind of controlled anarchy that is paralleled in the musical world these days by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Chock full of delicious irreverence and absurdity, alongside fabulous wordplay and self-reference, this revival of Round the Horne is a timely reminder of the art of satire.