CARRY ON CARRYING ON
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 22nd April 2023
Peter Rogers (no D) was the legendary producer of the legendary Carry On films, that staple of late 20th century British popular culture. We meet him in his office a year after the release of the woeful Carry On Emmanuelle in 1979. Undaunted by the film’s reception, Rogers is already planning the next in the series. He can see no difficulty in taking the series through the change of the century, despite oppositional claims that they’re already outdated and no longer have a place in a society that has moved beyond innuendo.
He can’t get his act together. The action moves on a few years. AIDS is rampant, and the rise of alternative comedy seems to be another nail in the Carry On coffin. But Rogers is not alone. He is visited – often rudely interrupted by – his famous cast. The gang’s all here: Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Sid James, Barbara Windsor…I think I need to point out this is a one-man show. The remarkable Darren Haywood portrays Rogers and a host of Carry On stars, dropping into their voices and mannerisms with split-second timing. Is he haunted? Possessed? Suffering some kind of multiple personality disorder?
The stars argue, tell stories, and show us glimpses of their real lives off camera. It’s a sheer delight to see them brought to life, so economically evoked, so instantly recognisable. There’s a wealth of nostalgia here but we are also invited to consider the films with a critical eye. The more dubious aspects of the series are not glossed over (blackface, sexism, and so on) but also the joys are not overlooked. There’s a magnificent sequence in which Rogers reads a fan letter asking what’s his favourite Carry On joke. This launches a dazzling display from Haywood, flipping from ‘Infamy, Infamy!’ to ‘Frying tonight!’ via a plethora of famous moments – the flying bra, Ooh Matron – it’s a virtuoso moment and a truly breath-taking feat.
Rogers manages to resurrect the series with Carry On Columbus in 1992, aiming to include the new wave of comedians. The film flops: they’re comedians rather than comic actors. Other plans (Carry On Dallas, Carry On London) fail to bear fruit. But Rogers is undaunted. He carries on going to his office at Pinewood Studios. He never gives up trying.
James Nicholas’s wonderful and well-researched script delivers laughs and poignancy: the fates of Hawtrey and Williams in particular are movingly depicted. Simon Ravenhill’s direction makes it seem as though Haywood is not alone on stage, but it’s Haywood’s masterly performance that pulls it off – ooer!
You don’t get many of these to the pound.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Carry on, genius! Darren Haywood as Peter Rogers and the Carry On gang