In 2010 we reviewed Mike Livesley’s one-man show of Sir Henry At Rawlinson End; this week we saw the last ever performance at The Brindley Theatre in Runcorn. It remained as impressive as ever, a loving, lovely tribute to Vivian Stanshall brought to live by a performance of awesome power, recall, deftness and will.
With the same band in attendance – augmented by Rodney Slater of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Livesley was, once more and for the final time, Sir Henry. It was a pleasure an honour to be there and, in recognition, we publish our first review of Stanshall – and Livelsley’s – meisterwerk from all those years ago at the Unity.
Sunlight creeps through curtains like ‘impudent marmalade fingers’; walking encyclopaedia Smeeton wears ‘glasses the shape of Ford Cortinas’; there’s a sound from behind a door as if ‘a hot water bottle were stifling a yawn’; while Hubert Rawlinson is in his mid-40s ‘and still unusual’. This is Rawlinson End, Vivian Stanshall’s collection of grotesques inhabiting a sprawling country pile ‘nestling in green nowhere’.
There’s little in the way of narrative, but a sequence of set-pieces strung together by a narrator, segueing into the voices of various oddballs and eccentrics.
All are played expertly by Mike Livesley – accents, mannerisms, tics and all – who does not miss a beat through the entire lengthy monologue, intercut with the odd song and backed up by a ramshackle, cobwebbed band.
Livesley has aspects of Brian Blessed and Dickie Attenborough, via Willie Rushton, Tim Wonnacott and, of course, Vivian Stanshall. While his performance is breathless and breakneck, he gives every impression that he understands the rhythms and the inflections of the text and, with impeccable timing, he brings it to life wonderfully.
As for the words; they’re a collision of Dylan Thomas, Lewis Carroll, the Goons… It’s all of that and more. Florid, verbose, meandering, overcooked – and quite mesmerising; all pickled-onions eyes and banjolele folderol.
It’s barking, riotous, wonderful, rich, lewd, absurdist, quintessentially British stuff but it could have all gone so horribly wrong in lesser hands.
That the lengthy text could be mastered in this way at all is an impressive feat; that Mike Livesley inhabited the role so completely, giving convincing voice to a riotous cast of glorious lunatic – elevated it to greatness.