School for scandal

Best known as Baldrick, Blackadder's down- trodden minion, TONY ROBINSON is whipping up a comic storm as Tempest, the part Alan Bennett wrote for himself in Forty Years On. It's a plum role in a hilarious play, he reckons. Words: Catriona Craig

Tony Robinson is running late. He rips off his shirt and reaches for his costume as he talks about his role in the new production ofAlan Bennett's Forty Years On. It is the first of many quick changes he will make tonight. leaping from one comic persona to the next in the part Bennett originally created for himself.

Robinson kicks off his trousers and confesses he’s been a Bennett fan since discovering Beyond The Fringe the revue he wrote and performed with Peter Cook. Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller in the 60s. ‘I imagine it was the same for the generation who loved The Young ()nes.’ he reflects. ‘I just couldn’t believe that the comedy was so obviously addressed to me. It was like listening to John Lennon. Part of me still won’t believe that John Lennon really died. Obviously. if he was going to die he’d have a conversation with me first. because he wrote his songs for me.’

The legacy of Blue/(adder means that Robinson too is part of the iconography of a generation. Since he took Baldrick to cult status in the 80s. people have assumed he's public property. When he hooks up to the Internet for the first time next week. he'll make a tentative search for Blackadder Websites. but he is both intrigued and wary. ‘I don’t want to get into a massive communication with people who know every word of Blackadder.’ he confesses. ‘But I will never regret doing that part. Baldrick has given me the most fantastic life. God bless the little bastard.‘

He finishes buttoning his tweed suit and turns his attention to the show ahead. ‘l’m very happy with this part.’ he enthuses. ‘Bennett very sensibly gave himself a lot of the best lines. And I get to play a scene as Edith Evans doing Lady Bracknell. which is wonderful.’ He admits that some people may find the show surprising. ‘It was written when Bennett was basically a sketch-writer. It’s not a naturalistic drama. Really it is as much a strategy for gags as Monty Python or Blackadder.’


'l'm very happy with the part because Bennett very sensibly gave himself a lot of the best

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'God bless Baldrick': Tony Robinson as Tempest in Forty Years On

Forty Years On is a play within a play. A public school puts on an end-of—term sketch show about the social context of the two World Wars. One teacher (Christopher Timothy) takes a critical approach to the topic. This provokes disapproval from the aged Headmaster (Tony Britton). who sees the past in a more romantic light and makes repeated attempts to intervene. It may sound dry. but in fact the opposite is true. Peter Wilson’s slick production taps every seam of comic potential. pushing the tough. unsentimental side of the humour but never losing subtlety. He is helped by the fact that some sketches are among the funniest Bennett has anything. the show is too funny. throwing out one-liners faster than it is possible to catch them.

Robinson has no time for this criticism. ‘1 don’t understand the concept of too many jokes.’ he argues. ‘I love dense comedy. especially the sort of thing where you never know whether to laugh or not because you might miss the next joke.’ He gives a cunning smile. ‘Anyway. the Scots are far more literary than the English and will probably get more out of it than the inhabitants of Dorking or Guildford.’

Forty Years On is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 11-Sat 15 Mar. A new. extended edition of Alan Bennett's journals, Writing Home, is published by Faber on Mon 17 Mar at £6.99.

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preview THEATRE

Stage Whispers

The latest clues on who‘s taking cues from whom. THINGS ARE HAPPENING in the quick-slow-quick—quick-moving world of Scotland's only full-time contemporary dance company. Just one year after being drafted in to create Scottish Dance Theatre from the ashes of Dundee Rep Dance Company, artistic director Neville Campbell has stepped down to make way for respected English choreographer Janet Smith. Campbell leaves under something of a cloud, after being widely criticised for below-par choreo- graphy and lack of direction. Smith, who takes up the post in June after leaving her own company of 21 years, is aware of past problems, but full of optimism for the task of building SDT's profile locally and internationally. Better luck this time, Scottish Dance Theatre.

THE BRUNTON THEATRE'S grand re- opening gala, which was scheduled for early March, has been postponed until August or September. The Musselburgh building, which has undergone major, Lottery-funded refurbishment, is now almost ready, but the recent, sudden departure of artistic director Robin Peoples scotched plans for a major re- opening production by the resident company. The closing date for applications for the post was Monday 3 March: the board is now considering who to appoint. Watch this space.

AS SCOTTISH ACTORS LAMENT the lack of employment opportunities provided by television, film and theatre companies this side of the border (see Agenda, page 4), two snippets of news should offer a ray of hope. A national poll found that the Scottish accent is now favoured even above BBC English as the most appealing one for voice-overs; while another reported that Sean Connery's easy-to-imitate granite growl was the voice most people wanted to hear on a telephone helpline. Even if they don't find themselves starring in future Bond movies, Scottish actors should at least be able to occupy themselves profitably during those brief patches of unemployment.

Sean Connery: reasshuring voissh

7—20 Mar 1997 THE UST 83