The real Monkhouse stands up

Simon Cartwright in Monkhouse

Simon Cartwright in Monkhouse - Credit: Archant

For the best part of 40 years, Bob Monkhouse stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the legends of television’s golden age, both a master of comic timing and the natural host of a variety of ratings-busting game shows.

But behind the patter, the tan and the refined mannerisms, there was a man who was uncomfortable with the public persona he had devised, who resented being perceived as smug, slick and over-confident, yet had no way of shedding this image without stepping away from the career he loved.

In the wake of his successful turn as Eric Morecambe in the eponymous one-man play, St Albans’ own Bob Golding is taking a turn as director to present the follow-up, a look at the life and times of Robert Alan Monkhouse, starring Simon Cartwright as the man himself.

Set in 1995, shortly after the well-publicised theft of two of his handwritten joke books, and some eight years before his death from prostate cancer, the play hangs on a tribute he is composing for former writing partner Denis Goodwin, 20 years after his death, which provides a platform for a retrospective look back through Bob’s life in the spotlight.

Cartwright IS Monkhouse. His performance isn’t an impression, it’s a loving recreation of the man himself, someone he had the privilege of meeting on Bob Says Opportunity Knocks, and he captures his physical quirks and vocal inflections without ever resorting to parody.

The script by Alex Lowe never ventures into “tears of a clown” territory, and just as well as that path has been well-trodden in various other biographical productions based on the lives of our best-loved comedians, but instead offers a sharp and insightful look at the real Bob Monkhouse.

It strives to show the struggle he experienced between wanting to be successful, and having to sell a small part of his soul in the quest for fame.

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He comes across as frustrated that the public have a misconception of him as smarmy and insincere, when he was actually trying for a sharp and polished routine along the same lines as Bob Hope. Bob is open about his infidelities, his somewhat OCD practices, his tears after the Sunday Mirror published a story claiming he broke the heart of his disabled son Gary, and yet all along there is the warmth, the self-depreciating humour and the gentleness which contributed to make Monkhouse as equally loved as he was loathed.

The preview show at the Alban Arena was a chance for local audiences to catch a sneak glimpse of this new play before it heads up to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival, and on the strength of what was shown on Sunday night it should prove another golden shot for Golding and co.