Five Jokers in One Pack
I say, I say, what do you get when you put five comedians together in a dressing room?
No, that’s not a gag, it’s an idea that Bobby Ball had for his latest piece of comedy writing, The Dressing Room, currently on tour in the North West.
And ex-Crackerjack comic Stu Francis, who is one of those five, is enjoying himself so much in the show that he really could crush a grape.
The show brings together five comedians with around 200 years’ on-stage experience between them; Bobby Ball and double act partner Tommy Cannon, Yorkshire’s comedy veteran Johnnie Casson, top radio and TV impressionist Kate Robbins and pantomime favourite Stu, who spoke to Northern Life about the show.
The Dressing Room is set in a club dressing room, where the acts are taking their turn to go out and perform on stage. Stu plays the hapless compere.
“The audience see the act performing on half of the stage, then they see what goes on back in the dressing room,” says Stu.
“There’s all sorts of daftness and misunderstandings, and my character hasn’t a clue what’s going on.”
The show is a combination of sitcom, variety entertainment and play, and Bobby Ball invented a new word – ‘playriety’ – to describe it.
As you might expect, rehearsals with five such seasoned comedians have been a laugh from the start.
“We’re always taking the mickey out of each other in rehearsals, but it’s still a job that has to be done right,” says Stu.
“As rehearsals have gone on, all of us have put our ten penn’orth in, and little things have been changed. In the end, though, it’s Bobby’s play and he decides what goes in.”
There’s a great respect between all the performers, which is hardly surprising since their paths have often crossed during their many years treading the boards and making TV audiences chuckle.
Stu says: “I’ve known Bobby and Tommy man and boy. We go back a long way and I’ve done lots of variety work with them. Between us, we’re a dinosaur.
“We’re all northern comedians, but I wouldn’t say it’s just northern humour in the show. It appeals to all sorts, and there’s no smut, nothing near the knuckle. It’s what you’d call a family show.”
Family entertainment has been a specialism for Bolton-born Stu, now in his 60s, who started as a holiday camp entertainer, graduated to The Comedians on ITV in the 1970s and found national fame partnering the zany fox puppet Basil Brush in Crackerjack where they loved his catchphrase “Ooh! I could crush a grape!”
After fronting Duggie Chapman’s pantomimes at Bolton for umpteen years in the ‘Buttons’ type role, Stu is looking forward to a Christmas break while the Albert Halls at Bolton Town Hall are closed for a major remodelling project.
“I was wondering whether to take on other work, but my wife made the decision for me. She said ‘You’re having this year off and spending Christmas at home’.”
Meanwhile, The Dressing Room continues its successful northern premiere, after opening at the Lowther Pavilion in Bobby’s adopted home town of Lytham, followed by the Grand Theatre at Lancaster and the Mechanics Theatre at Burnley.
The show’s run continues at Fleetwood Marine Hall on 23 October, Chorley Little Theatre on 27 and 28 October, and Thwaites Empire Theatre, Blackburn, on 29 October. Bobby Ball is pleased with how it’s gone so far, and said: “My cast are fantastic. I was so thrilled to get them all on board.”
There’s also a possibility that The Dressing Room, Bobby’s second play following his debut Rock Off Tommy, may go on a more extensive tour in future.