Historically Funny

By Louis Barfe

The schedules are always helped by the National Theatre of Brent. Whether a new production or a repeat I’ve heard a hundred times, it doesn’t matter – I’ll laugh heartily from start to finish. The NTOB has been shining a light on historical events and attitudes for nearly 40 years now, under the firm hand of ‘chief executive, artistic director and maison d’etre’ [sic] Desmond Olivier Dingle. But Dingle’s best efforts would come to nothing without his entire acting company, which has, for 20 years or so, been Staines-based foam salesman Raymond Box.

So it was a joy to find them in Radio 4’s Saturday Drama slot with their Illustrated Guide to Sex and How It Was Done (available on iPlayer). New to radio, this was a revised version of The Wonder of Sex, which was on at the actual National Theatre in 2002. I was lucky enough to see this, and the depictions of Oedipus Rex and Casanova have lived long in the memory, but it was Box’s burning determination to play ‘Rasputin, the mad Russian monk, with the mad, starin’ eyes’ that stole the show, despite Dingle’s attempts to thwart him. 

Dingle is the inspired creation of the great writer/performer Patrick Barlow, a Redcoat with ideas above his station. Box, played by the brilliant John Ramm, is the longest serving of Dingle’s put-upon assistants, following Jim Broadbent’s Wallace among others, and in my view the best by far.

These are very fine actors playing rotten actors, but it’s not snide. Ramm’s sympathetic portrayal of Box inspires great affection, while there is the sense that pompous, overreaching Dingle knows how far out of his depth he is, but he keeps going. Barlow and Ramm have given them extensive backstories.
They live and breathe. This is one of the great double acts.

Louis on Twitter: @AlanKelloggs or email: wireless@cheeseford.net