Words by Helen Knott
Running for two nights at The Old Joint Stock Theatre, Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams comes to Birmingham from 26th to 27th September.
Doors open at 7:30pm on both nights, with tickets priced at £12. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.
If someone mentions Kenneth Williams your first thoughts are most likely: Carry On films, double entendres, camp mannerisms. But that is only one side of Williams. He was also subversive, complex, and for his time, at least, cutting-edge.
Take Round The Horne, a popular BBC radio comedy. It attracted weekly audiences of 15 million listeners in the sixties and Williams was part of its regular line-up. Back then being gay was still illegal, so much of the show’s innuendo involved Williams’ use of Polari – the slang that gay men used to communicate. The BBC censors seemingly didn’t understand it and consequently quite outrageous stuff, even by today’s standards, got broadcast into millions of people’s living rooms.
Though popular and fondly regarded during his lifetime, Williams’ posthumously published diaries suggest that off air he was troubled. According to his memoirs, Williams suffered from depression and found it hard to come to terms with his homosexuality. He eventually died in 1988 of a drug overdose.
So, Williams lived a rich and varied life, leaving plenty to explore in Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams. Colin Elmer, who has appeared as Williams before in a production celebrating the 50th anniversary of Round the Horne, wrote and performs the one man show – once again with Tim Astley directing.
We are told Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams tells Williams’ story in his own words, and judging by some of his diary extracts this is a good shout: ‘Had Sid, Hattie, Joan, Barbara, Bernard and Charlie around for dinner. They were all perfectly awful except for Barbara whom I love more than anything else in the world, and even she is a stupid cunt’.
Colin Elmer has been a fan of Williams since he was a boy, so I’m expecting Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams to be more of a thoughtful and nuanced representation of an enigmatic entertainer, rather than a catchphrase-laden caricature. But it will be interesting to see if Elmer manages to bring anything new to our appreciation of Williams, or if it will simply be a nostalgic look back at one of British comedy’s greats.
Watch an interview with Colin Elmer where he discusses Kenneth Williams, as part of the promotion for the previous 50th anniversary of Round the Horne production:
For more on Cult Figure: Kenneth Williams, visit www.oldjointstock.co.uk/whats-on/cult-figure
For more from The Old Joint Stock Theatre, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.oldjointstock.co.uk