Arthur Smith – Live Review – Pocklington Arts Centre
By Karl Hornsey, January 2020
While he might now be most widely recognised for being one of the original Grumpy Old Men, Arthur Smith was among those at the heart of the alternative comedy movement that blossomed during the 1980s. And, judging by his appearance at Pocklington Arts Centre on Friday evening under the banner of ‘Laughs, Stories, A Song and A Poem’, it’s easy to see how Smith’s somewhat off-the-wall and surreal brand of humour has made him a national institution.
The self-styled Night Mayor of Balham is clearly proud of his south London roots, stories about which crop up at various points during the evening and which, of course, have given Smith the distinctive voice that has made him a favourite on Radio 4 down the years, as well as voicing current daytime TV favourite Money for Nothing. There’s also no doubt that he revels in still being a Grumpy Old Men, though perhaps a little more mellow than when the hit show made it to the TV screens more than 15 years ago.
Supermarkets, Americans and Piers Morgan are among the targets of his vitriol, and one can hardly disagree on the latter, while the current ‘crime spree’ hitting the streets of Pocklington and the locals’ disdain for all things Market Weighton also merit several mentions.
“Not quite sure what’s coming next”
There’s something for everything with this slightly surreal one-man show, including further evidence of Smith’s obsession with the songs of Leonard Cohen, at least half a dozen recitals of some wonderfully evocative poems and readings from his new book, 100 Things I Meant To Tell You. Throw in a smattering of what could politely be called ‘dad jokes’, invariably starting with “A man went to the doctor”, and a surreal ‘mindfulness’ video showing the correct way to smoothly fold a towel (which looked suspiciously like a pillow case to me), and this is an evening when one isn’t quite sure what’s coming next.
For me though, the highlights of the show were Smith’s reminiscences about his father, who clearly meant an awful lot to Arthur and who led a truly fascinating life. Syd Smith was a PoW at Colditz and a ‘bobby on the beat’ in London during the 1950s, with both situations providing Smith with enough material that he has also created another show, simply called ‘SYD’, which hopefully will come to Yorkshire in the not too distant future.
As for this particular show, it’s coming to Harrogate at the end of March and Halifax in November, and whatever musings Smith decides to share on those occasions will be well worth popping along to see.