The cusp of the Seventies began the golden age of sitcoms, and one of the most memorable and beloved of these was Up Pompeii. Starring Frankie Howerd, the sitcom was inspired by Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Carry on Cleo. As Lurcio – the head slave of Senator Ludicrus Sextus and his wife Ammonia – Howerd confided to the audience about the ‘goings on’ in the city and the household. As well serving his master and mistress, Lurcio also had to abide by the wishes of their son and daughter Nausius and Erotica. Which leads us to Up Pompeii 2019…
Fifty years since the first episode of the programme, this occasion is commemmorated with a new audio cast recording, based on the successful stage play by Miles Tredinnick. David Benson as Lurcio leads the cast, amiably supported by well-known actors, past and present: Madeline Smith, Frazer Hines, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Camille Coduri, Cleo Rocos, Rosa Coduri, Jack Lane, Jilly Breeze, Ben Perkins and Barnaby Eaton-Jones.
Playing Ammonia in this production, it’s only fitting that Smith is so prominently involved in the audio revival, as she was an integral part of the 1971 film version of Up Pompeii. Other actors from the same period such as Frazer Hines, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Cleo Rocos lend the recording a sense of versimilitude of the same era.
One of the hallmarks of Up Pompeii is Lurcio’s ‘prologue’ – a device used to break the fourth wall and comment unnoticed on what’s transpired. In this audio narrative, it is used to good effect as Benson not only comments on the minutiae of the narrative, but also meta- references with regards the sound effects and so on. In this respect, the audio revival mirrors another classic comedy recording, that of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
One doesn’t need to know about the original show to enjoy this as the plot – particularly in the second half – is reminscient of the farcical hijinks in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. However, for those who are familiar and enjoyed the source material, they will enjoy the witticisms and double entendres. As my companion on the day will attest, when she closed her eyes, it was just like hearing the original broadcasts.
© Michael Davis 2019
Up Pompeii: An Audio Revival was performed and recorded at the Shaw Theatre, London on 12th October.
The recording will be available to buy on 29th November at: https://spitefulpuppet.com/product/up-pompeii-a-50th-anniversary-audio-revival-2-disc-set/