19 October 2015
Freddie at the City Varieties
As cowriter of Funny Bones I cannot pretend to be impartial, but for those who couldn't make it here are some notes on Freddie's performance, topping the bill, in The Good Old Days at the City Varieties, Leeds on Saturday the 10th of October. I was at the matinee.
I have now seen his "turn" (as opposed to his one man show or other presentations) several times but it was something extra special to observe him, as it were, under laboratory conditions, in a theatre expressly designed for music hall. He has played there many times over the years since his first appearance after the entree provided by Opportunity Knocks in 1964, and his grandfather also played there.
I had never been inside the theatre before, but even from the back of the stalls it felt extraordinarily intimate: ideal for comedy as well as song. Performers were miked up, which didn't seem necessary - although maybe that can be excused as a concession to the average age of the audience.
Afterwards Freddie said how much he felt at home on that stage, and I was reminded of a comment he made in a radio interview about a performer magically reverting to whatever age he was when he first did a routine. He exhuded a fearless relaxation onstage, reminding me of seeing Ken Dodd on his home ground at the Liverpool Phil a couple of years ago.
But the relaxation was balanced by a kind of capering mischief, a sense that anything might happen, even mid-song. At one point his eyes darted this way and that as though anticipating, or reacting to, imagined slights. "You smell nice," he suddenly said, a propos of nothing, to someone in one of the boxes. "Have you been hiking?"
One of the things we touched on when working on Freddie's autobiography was that television, for him, was a means to an end. It ensured bigger theatre audiences but theatre was the thing; Ken Dodd would doubtless say the same.
Partial or not, way of conclusion all I can say is that on Saturday the 10th of October I had the privilege of watching a performer of long experience doing what he does best, thoroughly at home in the best possible place, before an audience who knew his worth.
Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy by Freddie Davies with Anthony Teague is available from amazon (paperback) or direct from Scratching Shed Publishing (paperback or limited edition hardback). Read an extract here.