- October 13, 2020
I first learnt about Max Miller when I stumbled upon an LP, yes that far back, of his routines. I immediately fell in love with this flamboyant character who took the variety world by storm with his saucy rapid fire material. Innuendo was the name of the game and he could milk fun from the most cunningly phrased combinations of seemingly innocent words.
Much as I loved those recordings I knew very little about his life, born and bred in Brighton I knew, married yes, mistress yes… but that was about it.
Dave Simpson’s script resolved that and forms the very clean structure of this theatrical tribute to the most successful comedian of his day. And the whole is beautifully performed by an ensemble of talented actors who play all of the major and incidental parts in this comic but also tragic story.
The piece is populated by period songs too, some from Miller’s own repertoire but also popular songs. Now I hate the “juke box musical” format, a bunch of period songs tied to a flimsy plot but in no way progressing any sense of the narrative. Here the songs are artfully chosen and beautifully delivered. Who Were You With Last Night? dropped in as Miller begins his long time affair with mistress Ann Graham. And every song used does exactly the same, if they were not so familiar, well to audiences of a certain age, then one might think they were written solely for this show. Add to this the excellent vocal skills of the cast who deliver each number with the delightfully clipped pronunciation and styling of the originals.
Of course no play about Max Miller could work without an exceptional depiction of the original – and this is no mean feat. Jamie Kenna inhabits the role with energy and authority. He has the voice, the patter, the speed and that essential “cheeky” quality that is vital. He also has the skill to dip away from that stage persona to reveal the sadness that Miller felt, his two long term relationships, wife the upper class Kathleen played with heart by Claire Marlowe, a tragic story of loss and love, and Anne Graham, played by Louise Faulkner, a rather brusque and matter of fact lady whose love for Max last until his death but is never satisfactorily consummated. In fact for a man whose act was so peppered with sexual innuendo both relationships lacked any physical satisfaction. Both though showed that he was a man capable of sharing his love.
This piece of clever musical theatre with live music and a sizeable cast is a rare thing in a fringe setting where one and two person productions seem to rule. And given the chill outdoor setting of the open air Warren on Brighton beach it is proof of its worth from the way it held the audience’s attention throughout.