Cumberbatchweb – Review of Good Evening – A Tribute to Beyond the Fringe

9781408472064Along with a very busy career in film, television and theatre Benedict Cumberbatch has carved for himself an illustrious career in radio drama and comedy. In the first of an occasional series Cumberbatchweb will be reviewing some of Benedict’s prior radio performances.

First up is Good Evening – A Tribute to Beyond the Fringe...

Good Evening -A Tribute to Beyond the Fringe is a 45 minute BBC4 radio drama which first aired in April 2008. Written by Roy Smiles the drama takes an affectionate and amusing look at the team behind Beyond the Fringe, four men from Oxbridge who were to change the face of British comedy.

Beyond the Fringe was a comedy sketch show which bought together the best of the Cambridge Footlights and the Oxford Revue. Starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller Beyond the Fringe started off at the Edinburgh Festival before having a successful run in the West End. Cook wrote the majority of the sketches while Dudley Moore (a genius with the piano) provided satirical songs and other musical interludes. It was seen to be ahead of its time with it’s strong satirical streak and willingness to attack public & political figures.

Good Evening starts with our intrepid foursome basking in the success of their West End run and contemplating moving the show to Broadway. Peter Cook (Rory Kinnear (Skyfall, soon to be Iago at the NT opposite Adrian Lester’s Othello) and Dudley Moore (Benedict Cumberbatch) are all for the move to New York but Alan Bennett (Matt Addis) and Jonathan Miller (Jonathan Aris –  Anderson in Sherlock) are considerably less keen. The drama adopts the approach of Beyond the Fringe and evolves in a series of sketches. It intersperses comedy material from the time of Beyond the Fringe with monologues from each of the four leads discussing their lives and their motivations for joining the show fleshed out with broad but amusing comic sketches.

Young Peter Cook is informed by his racist colonist father that he is being shipped off to boarding school in a hilarious politically incorrect sketch (“We’re sending you there because we love you. And we want the best for you- at a distance”.) Dudley Moore has an argument with his father about his shameful showbiz ways (“I don’t know why you keep looking at the ceiling when you talk about mother, father. She’s only visiting Aunty Vera in Frinton”) while Jonathan Miller’s father is so horrified at the thought of his son throwing away his burgeoning medical career to appear in a sketch show in New York that he contemplates laying down in traffic.

Your enjoyment of the drama will very much depend on your fondness for sketch shows but if you’re a fan of Beyond the Fringe or any of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s work it’s a joy. It’s a very funny piece although the humour has a sharp edge to it as you would expect for a piece about Beyond the Fringe. All four leads are quite superb but special honours must go to Rory Kinnear (who frankly is generally quite marvellous in things) who perfectly captures Peter Cook’s intelligence & weary disaffectedness and Benedict Cumberbatch is gently affecting as Moore (who did not have the easiest ride in life) and he gets to give his talent for impressions a whirl turning in a very good impression of Moore’s voice. Kinnear and Cumberbatch even get to do a rather spot on take of Pete & Dud.

Funny, clever and barbed Good Evening is a thoroughly entertaining 45 minutes.

Good Evening – A Tribute to Beyond the Fringe was kindly provided to me by the lovely people at AudioGo. It can be purchased from AudioGo for £1.84 ($5.97 in the US) and downloads work worldwide.