JOBBING comic Jigsy has seen it all – a boy singer beating him on Opportunity Knocks, Ken Dodd on the witness stand, his mother being given the last rites eight times and the bottom of countless pint glasses.
Now he’s behind the scenes at a club in Fazakerley, reminiscing about his 30 years in showbusiness, while the bingo caller takes his place on stage.
He’s a faded comedian in terms of success but not in terms of his personality. Charismatic with a cheeky liveliness and a dirty laugh, he recalls the promise of his younger days, the success he never quite managed to grasp.
Funny, clever and gentle, Tony Staveacre’s new one-man play pays tribute not only to Liverpool’s Jackie Hamilton, who inspired it, but to an entire generation of comics who worked the smoky club circuit week in week out because they simply felt compelled to do it.
How could he retire?, muses Les Dennis’s Jigsy, even though the drink and late nights are slowly killing him.
The show plays to all of Dennis’s strengths – his immaculate comic timing, ability to warm up a crowd within seconds of arriving on stage, his experience as a stand-up and an impressionist.
He swaps into the guise of different comedians as they come into his story – Tommy Cooper drinking with an imaginary friend, the perfect cruelty of Tommy Cannon destroying Bobby Ball’s guitar, Ken Dodd winning over the Liverpool jury at his tax evasion trial (they found him not guilty) while rows of comedians looked on hoping to indulge in schadenfreude.
But it’s also a chance for him to show that he can really act. His fattened-up face and ruddy drinker’s cheeks help him look the part, but it’s his slightly lumbering physicality and gruff delivery that clinches it.
The script is packed full of Merseyside references but they belong in the story, not shoehorned in in a misguided attempt to make the play seem solidly Scouse.
Jigsy benefits from not having premiered in Liverpool because its success at the Edinburgh Festival and venues outside the city stops people wondering how well it would travel to theatres where audiences had never heard of Cammell Laird’s or the Eagle and Child pub (“Huyton Country Club”, he jokes).
The busy backstage set – grubby couch, comedians’ photos and crisp boxes – works well on the Royal Court stage, where the stalls cabaret seating helps to create the atmosphere of a club.
It’s exactly the sort of show this self-styled “people’s theatre” should be putting on – funny, thought-provoking, unmistakably Liverpudlian and recognisable to local people without compromising on quality.