THEATRE REVIEW: George Formby show turned out nice

Ewan Wardrop at Royal & Derngate
Ewan Wardrop at Royal & Derngate

“Let the audience do it for themselves.” Sound words of advice from Beryl Formby to her husband George as he rehearses his innuendo-laden repertoire in the one-man show Formby, which was performed at Royal & Derngate in Northampton on Friday.

And the advice works. The risqué lyrics delivered with an innocent face raise a laugh today as they did 70 years ago because a little bit of relatively wholesome double entendre never did anyone any harm.

The show is the creation of Ewan Wardrop and tells the story of one of this country’s most successful entertainers. The star of more than 20 hit films and one of the highest paid performers of his day, George Formby.

Formby was not the first of his family to take to the stage. The show tells how his father, George snr, topped the bill all over the country with an act that seemed to centre largely on his having a bad cough.

He never wanted his son to follow him into the profession though and so young George was sent to Ireland to become a jockey.

But it was not to be. George senior, whose ill health turned out to be more than a comic device, died, and at this point George junior took to the stage singing his father’s songs.

And it seems he would have muddled along at the bottom of the bill relying on good will from theatre owners who remembered his dad, were it not for meeting a dancer called Beryl, who became his wife.

It is a cliché to call feisty northern women formidable, but I think she probably was and the show tells how Beryl guided George’s career with determination.

It is a tribute to Wardrop’s performance that the characters of Beryl and George can go from romance to business relationship, through ups and downs, ill health and infidelity, with little more than a purple feather boa and a facial expression to indicate which character he is inhabiting from one moment to the next.

When Wardrop first appeared on stage as Formby I must admit I was disappointed he did not look more like him, but this feeling soon disappeared. This is not an impersonation. As the performance develops you are drawn in to the character on stage as he builds his career and sings the hits, from Blackpool Rock to When I’m Cleaning Windows. It helps that he is pretty good on the uke too. It turned out nice.