are the lucky one with your Fitzdare. She is a treasure. Of such tantalising
beauties, it fair make me weep. God speed you on your way into such dear
"Beefy would you be my best man."
"Nothing in this world give me more profound pleasure."
"Is there anything I can do for you Beefy."
"Yes. I should adore to quaff a bottle of champagne. In these testing times."
This cozy narrow sitting room. Drapes aflutter with a summer breeze. And Dublin lies out there. For all it's worth. It will speak to you when one is least ready to listen. The champagne comes. A smallish boy enjoying this duty. Making a little cascade and popping the cork across the room.
"To you Balthazar. Fitzdare. And many little Balthazars."
"Thank you Beefy."
- J.P. Donleavy from The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B
"Yin and tonic"
WHY DO comedians and entertainers generally make very good actors? Because, I suspect, they learn more about timing, audience-control and the craft of theatre from a week of playing the halls or (nowadays) the clubs than most people do from three years of formal training. When George Robey played Falstaff in 1935, a fellow actor noted that when it came to the honour speech, "he would go down stage, put one foot up on the footlights and look rather like a politician." Other actors at that time ignored the audience during soliloquy: Robey played them.
What is fascinating today, however, is the two-way traffic between comedy and legit. In Mamet's American Buffalo at the Cottesloe, Dave King, and ex-comic, played a Chicago junkship-owner with an omniscient repose and Jack Benny-like feeling for a pause that he could only have learned from years of playing the halls.
Conversely Donald Sinden in Shakespearean comedy has mastered the stand-up comic's are of shooting at the audience fierce glances of moral outrage when they laugh at something dirty. (Malvolio's 'these be her very "C's, her "U's and her "T's" was accompanied by a look that would have frozen the smile on the face of the Sphinx).
Each side of the business can learn from the other (Alec McCowen and Ian McKellen are, I know, devotees of stand-up comics). But each side must also respect the other's disciplines. Which brings us to the case of Billy Connolly who is currently playing Beefy, the rantipole theological student and bum-about-town in J.P. Donleavy's The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B at the Duke of York's.
It is very nearly a first-rate performance: diabolical energy and jolly, rogering zest is combined with an essential kindliness of spirit. Whether tearing the knickers off a Dublin whore with his teeth or delighting in his own violent erection, Mr. Connolly brings to the role an insane sexual brio. At the same time this doubtless deplorable naked-ape cocksuredness is accompanied by a louche charm that has a Harrods aristo (Joyce Carey) eating out of his hand.
But Mr. Connolly cannot, so to speak, keep the old Adam down. And what stops him from being a perfect Beefy is his occasional departure from the disciplines of acting. At one moment, he holds a walking stick at a phallic angle and looks to us for approval. An another, he mimics his friend Balthazar's (a very fine performance, incidently, from Patrick Ryecart) head-movements and speech patterns as if out to make his colleague corpse. And Mr. Connolly is not above biting off the ends of sentences as if suddenly unable to contain his own mirth.
These are small blemishes on what is, for the most part, a very fine performance. With his long, tapered body, his sober suit and his pre-Raphaelite face, Mr. Connolly actually does look like "a man who will one day follow quite closely in the heels of Christ." Yet he also suggests a Savoy Grill satyr, a man with a seven second itch. It is an inspired piece of casting.
I certainly welcome his crossover from stand-up to sit-down performing. Inside many classic actors lurks the soul of a pub-entertainer. And over the years most funnymen acquire a mastery of timing and love of language that makes them natural straight actors. Let cross-fertilisation thrive! But let comics and actors also remember that the other's craft has a built-in highway code that must be as carefully observed as one's own.
To purchase books by J.P. Donleavy, go to the Buyers' Guide.