Frankie Howerd's clandestine lover
“I could never have the public finding out I was as queer as a kumquat.”
At a brand new pub theatre, the Golden Goose in Camberwell, close to Michael Kingsbury’s other successful pub theatre, The White Bear, comes a show about a famous British comic with a hidden private life. Frankie Howerd died in 1992 but he is still remembered for his idiosyncratic, saucy humour, never filthy, just full of Oohs and Aaahs and rolling eyes through the fourth wall, and catchphrases like Ooh Missus and Titter ye not! And of course the put down to an audience who didn’t laugh enough, “Please yourself!”
Barry Cryer described Howerd’s career over six decades as “a series of comebacks” such was his ability to repeatedly charm an audience and restart his comedy career. We watched Frankie Howerd televised memories all the way home from the Golden Goose on video and really enjoyed his mischievous and gently camp one liners which, although appearing spontaneous, were actually carefully scripted.
Although born in York, Frankie Howard moved to the Eltham to the Well Hall Hutments, wooden bungalows designed in World War I for housing the munitions workers at the Woolwich Arsenal. The website Notable Abodes (Can’t you hear Frankie saying Notable Abodes OOOh?) records he later lived at 19A Arbroath Road Eltham but his London plaque from the Dead Comics’ Society is in Kensington.
Cambridge graduate Mark Farrelly has written and appeared in plays, The Silence of Snow about the 1920s author Patrick Hamilton, from whose play came the term gaslighting, Naked Hope about Quentin Crisp, and he is working on a solo piece about revolutionary film maker Derek Jarman.
Playwright Mark Farrelly plays Dennis Heymar who was a 29 year old sommelier at the Dorchester in Mayfair when he met Frankie Howerd (Simon Cartwright) who was 12 years his senior. The frame for Howerd’s End is Dennis talking posthumously to the ghost of his companion and lover for 34 years, so this is as much Dennis’s story as Frankie Howerd’s. The time frame is mostly the 1950s and 1960s terror felt by gay entertainers lest their homosexuality became known and meant rejection by the public and unemployment.
The result of Howerd’s lack of confidence in his sexuality is that his relationship with Dennis was hidden, even from Howerd’s own sister and his presence explained as chauffeur, manager or the ultimate put down, “That’s Dennis. He’s nobody.” Howerd seems to have found his own gayness a reason for self loathing. There is no doubt that Howerd was a complex personality, often abrasive and unkind to those closest to him but we see in this play a charming scene when Dennis Heymar asks him to dance to Brian Hyland’s “Sealed with a Kiss”. Howerd is reluctant but this coming together dance is very tender.
Dennis Heymar describes the originality of Howerd’s anarchic, self deprecating, story-telling humour which preceded radio shows like The Goons, Monty Python and more. Later, he stages one of the many comebacks, when he was approached in the early 1960s by Peter Cook to play at his Establishment Club and delighted a Beyond the Fringe audience expecting political satire. Up Pompeii was created for him by the BBC to play the Roman slave Lurcio after he was such a hit in the stage play imported from Broadway, Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
The performances are lovely. Simon Cartwright, complete with those distinctive eyebrows and a scruffy toupee, puckers his lips and struts like the original comic copying his mannerisms. His voice is slightly different but then this is acting not impersonation. Mark Farrelly has the less rewarding role but convinces as to Heymar’s love of, and dedication to, his employer and lover and Farrelly plays other smaller parts.
The set is a mid twentieth century fireplace with electric fire and a large oil painting of Frankie Howard, on the chimney piece, which has a surprise. The theatre itself is a very large room, darkened walls with a stage and 40 distanced seats.
Sadly, this is a very short run at the Golden Goose but Farrelly and Cartwright should be booked again and will be at other venues for a quixotically entertaining show looking at the dark side of those who make the rest of us laugh and give so much pleasure
Written by Mark Farrelly
Directed by Joe Harmston
Director: Joe Harmston
Music composed: Robert Singer
Lighting Designer: Mike Robertson
Sound Designer: Tom Lishman
Running Time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Closed at the Golden Goose
on 31st October 2020
but touring dates booked for post lockdown
The Golden Goose
146 Camberwell New Road
London SE5 0RR
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Golden Goose
on 30th October 2020