Next Page Productions present Funny Faces, two one-act plays based on the lives of Carry On actors Joan Sims and Sid James at The Playhouse Theatre.
First up in Funny Faces is SIMply Joan – Joan Sims (Caroline Nash) is taking refuge from a wrap party by hiding in what appears to be a props cupboard, clutching a bottle of diet coke and a plate of buffet food. Immediately warm and welcoming, Joan kicks off her party shoes and begins to take us down memory lane. Far from avoiding the bumps along the way, she instead approaches them with speed. Nash presents Joan with affection, adapting her mannerisms without attempting an impression, and holds the audience in the palm of her hand throughout her hour-long stint alone on the stage.
It’s more “a conversation with…” than an autobiography, with each line beautiful spoken as if it had just popped into her head. Sims had a tough, and sometimes lonely life – but her love for her dear friends, and Carry On co-stars Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jaques was clear to see as she regaled us with anecdotes from their time working together. It’s not all laughter, however, with heartbreaking moments where she spoke of her battle with alcohol and her strained relationship with her parents. But each dark moment is brushed off with Sims’ trademark wit and humour. Nash kept the audience enthralled throughout in an utterly charming, and laugh out loud funny performance.
WOT SID DID felt particularly special, as opening night here at The Playhouse Theatre fell on the anniversary of Sid James’ death during a performance of The Mating Season. Director Rosemary Hill led the audience in a respectful champagne toast to the man himself during the interval. The action takes place in Sid’s “star” dressing room in Sunderland before what would be his final performance. Steve Dimmer as Sid, presents a softer version of James than those familiar with his characters in the Carry On films would associate with the actor – but this play is all about the details behind the man. Sid James was not all that he seemed.
Chuckling as he tells his tales, James reveals the lies he told as he arrived in England from South Africa with his second wife and their unborn daughter to create the cheeky “cockney” character we all remember so well. His womanising ways haven’t changed, and he entertains the audience with stories of his love affair with Barbara Windsor and being persuaded to share equal billing in a play thanks to a buxom chorus girl. Dimmer has certainly mastered James’ trademark “dirty laugh”, which received a wonderful, knowing reaction from the audience, and the easy charm which won James the ability to be forgiven anything by his fans.
Both wonderfully penned plays, although SIMply Joan is the more successful of the two – perhaps owing to her being a more likeable character. It was hard to find sympathy for James when he spoke of his love for “Babs” when you knew his reputation for womanising and the women he’d already left in his wake. Well directed by Rosemary Hill, neither play falls prey to becoming static – the action feels natural, as if we’d just wandered in and found them to have chat. Their stories are lovingly told and respectfully acted by two very talented performers. Maybe not a show for those unfamiliar with James and Sims, but anyone with even a basic knowledge of their characters in Carry On films or Hancocks Half Hour will enjoy the references, and be fascinated by the stories that made them who they were.
Cleverly written, with understated but exceptional performances from both Nash and Dimmer, Funny Faces is a wonderful evening’s entertainment that will no doubt have the audience digging out the Carry On films to view these beloved actors in a new light.
Performance: Thurs 26 April 2018, The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton
Becki is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too.