I am in complete awe of Jim Dale. For two hours yesterday afternoon we sat muttering "how can he be nearly 80?" I don't want to dwell on someone's age but even by modern day standards, Jim is remarkably sprightly.
I was really interested to see what Jim would do with his two hour one man show at the Vaudeville Theatre. I knew the show had run over in America and been very successful but since then it had been rejigged for a British audience. I mainly know Jim from the Carry Ons of course, but there is so much more to his life and career than his starring roles in eleven of the films.
The show passed in the blink of an eye. Jim was just wonderful, the ultimate professional and very obviously enjoying himself hugely. Although this was a retrospective look at his long career it never fell into self-congratulatory mode. It was very British in that respect. It did cover lots of high points and career achievements but all along there was a wonderfully attractive dead pan style, lots of sending himself up and a great dollop of not taking himself seriously. It was a very human performance and there was a great warmth and affection between the audience and Jim and vice versa.
Jim packed a lot into the show. He started off talking about his early life and spoke with great affection about his parents and how they had supported his desire to break into showbiz. We then meandered through Jim's early days in music hall and there were plenty of joyous anecdotes about his attempts at ballet dancing! We then moved on to his brief foray into the pop music industry, recording songs with the legendary George Martin.
The show was peppered with lots of lovely songs from Jim's career, most notably Georgy Girl (which he wrote for the famous film), Dick A Dum Dum (!) and music from his hit show Barnum. Jim's vocal talent is still strong and he performed all these songs with serious aplomb. I was really impressed.
Jim then talked about working with the Old Vic and National Theatre companies and it was here he made his only slip up and a very amusing one it was too! All I'll say is I was momentarily puzzled as to what Laurence Olivier might have been doing in Jim's bedroom...moving on! Jim shared memories of working on theatrical successes such as Barnum, playing most of the comic parts in Shakespeare, working on Peter Nichols plays and playing in Scapino. Nearly all of these parts involved a great deal of physical exertion, something Jim is justly famous for. His energy doesn't seem to have dipped at all over the years.
Of course, we were also treated to memories from the Carry Ons. A lovely montage of images appeared on a screen showing photos of the main team. We also saw clips of Jim's infamous stunts in the films, most notably those involving a camel and a hospital trolley! Jim talked about making Raising The Wind and how it was Kenneth Williams who spotted his potential and made sure he went on to become part of the main Carry On team. Jim shared some funny stories involving Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques and there was genuine warmth and affection for his late, great colleagues. I was also pleased to hear Jim reference some of the many other contributors to the Carry Ons' success, such as Angela Douglas, Fenella Fielding, Peter Butterworth, Amanda Barrie and Peter Gilmore.
The show ended with a very funny sketch recalling how Jim got the job of narrating the Harry Potter audio books for the American market. His comic timing, dexterity and physicality are very much still in evidence after all these years.
It is hard to criticise the show but if I had to nit pick I wish there had been a few more Carry On anecdotes. After all, it's largely what he's known for here. It was wonderful to hear about his wider career but there must have been a lot more he could share about making the films and working with such legendary comedy actors. A small point but I loved the show regardless.
There were many laugh out loud moments throughout the show. Jim worked incredibly hard and the audience responded well to all his efforts. It made me realise just what a talent he is. There aren't many left like Jim Dale these days. He's a true all-rounder, excelling at a bit of everything whether it be singing, dancing, writing songs, musical theatre, Shakespeare, film and television. He's done it all. It was a joy to see Jim back in the West End and long may he continue to entertains us and make us laugh.
Just Jim Dale is on at London's Vaudeville Theatre until 20 June.
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