“Tim Withnall’s script perfectly captures Dawson’s often poetic turns of phrase, with Culshaw’s note-perfect delivery setting up pirouetting metaphors to be brought crashing to earth with hob-nailed one-liners.”
The huge queue outside the venue before the show bore witness to the enduring popularity of both John Culshaw (BBC R4 Dead Ringers) and the comedian to whom this one-man show is a tribute. The 450-seat theatre was packed – I’d book early if you haven’t already got one of the hottest tickets in town. Those familiar with his work will know Culshaw is a master impressionist, but he has a head start here in bearing a more than passing resemblance to the lugubrious Les, his elastic face cheerfully twisting into that familiar expression akin to a bulldog chewing a humbug.
We first meet Les at the peak of his career, crossing the Atlantic on Concorde, looking back over his rags-to-riches life story, delivered in Dawson’s trademark deadpan style. We’re taken from his childhood on the streets of Manchester to his days as a pianist in a Parisian brothel and the TV stardom that lay beyond. Tim Withnall’s script perfectly captures Dawson’s often poetic turns of phrase, with Culshaw’s note-perfect delivery setting up pirouetting metaphors to be brought crashing to earth with hob-nailed one-liners.
Dominating the set upstage is a huge TV screen, on which we regularly see re-enacted episodes from the comedian’s life and career. All parts are superbly played by Culshaw, ranging from Dawson’s Cissie and Ada double act with Roy Barraclough, BBC newsreader John Humphreys, to Opportunity Knocks compere Hughie Green. An upright piano enables singalong audience participation as Les murders two or three songs in his laugh-out-loud tone-deaf style.
A show about a comedian who’s been dead for 30 years and whose heyday was half a century ago inevitably draws an audience with an older age profile. But the laughter of a few young people around me suggested that, while some mother-in-law jokes might be showing their age a bit, there’s still some mileage left in Dawson’s curmudgeonly wry take on life.