One reason why the theatre doesn't usually excite me is because when the run is over, it's over. Gone forever, unless a lot of people go to a supreme amount of trouble to make the whole thing happen in exactly the same way all over again.
TV cameras go some way towards fixing this, capturing the performance to enable untold millions in the future to travel back in time and visit it to.
This then is a 1991 TV re-enactment of highlights from Rowan Atkinson's 1981 and 1986 one man shows, which themselves featured reworked material from even earlier in his career.
I'm not sure that the intention here is exactly to preserve the show though. Perhaps more to simply transfer it (in some cases back?) to another medium, and in the process hone it even further. For example, the joke about Kylie Minogue wouldn't have made much sense five years earlier in the mid-80s, so I assume that the original shows had some other celebrity's name in there.
As usual, Atkinson is at the absolute top of his game throughout. His comedic range is milked here for all it's worth. Mime. Deadpan. Character pieces. The sketch in which he plays a headmaster aloofly informing a father of his son's death has so much going on under the surface that the scene appears lifted from a film. Basically, Atkinson knows how to make even the few dud skits at least watchable.
His assistant Angus Deayton - seen here before he became such a household name - does an exemplary job too, but by going to the opposite extreme. To magnify Atkinson's performance, poor Deayton has to do his darndest to not be funny at all, which with all due respect, his poker face is extremely good at. When he takes a bow at the end, you get the impression that he's not so much the other performer, but more likely today's temp from the agency. Job well done then.
Finally the scripts are mostly gems too. The opening classic about the devil welcoming everyone to Hell is hysterical, and sets the tone for the rest of the show brilliantly. Even the long-winded and frightfully dull sketch about the Indian waiter serving football hooligans still offers up the following gem:
"Oh! Dear. Here - let me help you up Sir. Err, no no, it is a tricky bit of floor that, err, deceptively flat and unimpeded."
Some of the swearing sadly makes this unsuitable for family audiences, which is quite a shame given how jolly the majority of it is.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this production though is that the whole thing is now available for FREE! Atkinson himself has now got it uploaded to his own YouTube account.
As 70-minute TV specials go, this one is simply faultless.
(with thanks to flatmate Dave)