A forerunner of Blackadder, Up Pompeii! was a BBC television series, broadcast between 1969 and 1970. The writers were Talbot Rothwell of Carry On fame and his less well-known partner Sid Colin. Written for its star, Frankie Howerd, and packed with his trademark camp innuendo and double entendres as well as what would once have been termed ‘nubile lovelies’, Up Pompeii! was successful enough to spawn a second series, two specials and – in 1971 – a film. Spiteful Puppet’s “audio revival” of the stage version of the series, written by Miles Tredinnick, is therefore not the kind of show to see – or hear – if you don’t love 1970s comedy. Sadly, it isn’t the kind of show to see – or hear – if you do.
Up Pompeii! is built around an impersonation of Howerd by the brilliant David Benson as the wisecracking slave, Lurcio. Lurcio’s master, Ludicrus Sextus, is Frazer Hines from the television soap opera Emmerdale and, for those whose memories stretch even further back, Doctor Who, while Sextus’s wife, Ammonia, is Madeline Smith, star of many Hammer films in the 1970s and one of the cast of the original Up Pompeii! where she was Ammonia’s daughter, Erotica. Others include the one time “Goodie” Tim Brooke Taylor, as a pirate, the multi-talented Cleo Rocos as Voluptua, a nymphomaniac around whom the “plot” revolves, and an outstanding Jilly Breeze as Senna the soothsayer. The cast then is impressive but the puerile and dated material is only fitfully amusing at best. Although Benson is a superb impersonator and actor, he is well below par and, despite working hard and gamely urging on the audience, the rest of the cast are simply unable to overcome the script’s shortcomings, not helped by unconvincing sound effects.
It is a very tricky business, reviving classic comedy. While rehearsed readings of Dad’s Army and Hancock’s Half-Hour and new productions of old scripts have been well received, they are very much the exception. With a significantly better script and tighter direction it might be possible to achieve something similar with Up Pompeii! but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Review by Louis Mazzini
A feature-length audio revival of ‘Up Pompeii’, from the successful stage play by Miles Tredinnick; based on the original characters/scripts devised by Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin for the infamous BBC comedy.
Starring David Benson as Frankie Howerd’s Lurcio (Senator Ludicrus Sextus’s slave) this hilarious romp through ancient Pompeii brings back all the television favourites in this full-cast audio revival, featuring Madeline Smith, Frazer Hines, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Camille Coduri, Cleo Rocos, Rosa Coduri, Jack Lane, Jilly Breeze, Ben Perkins and Barnaby Eaton-Jones.
A bawdy riot from start to finish, with an all-star cast. Have your laughs recorded for posterity. In fact, you’ll laugh your posterity off. A cautionary tale of coitus and eruptus!
100-110 Euston Road
London NW1 2AJSat 12 Oct 2019 2:30pm and 5:30pm
Up Pompeii; A 50th Anniversary Audio Revival will be released 29th November 2019.
Up Pompeii; A 50th Anniversary Audio Revival (2-DISC SET)