Nothing But Pleasure  (Review – Online)

Nothing But Pleasure  (Review – Online)

I’ve been listening to a talk radio station rather more than usual recently and I’ve been struck just how many people have been phoning in to have their say about the whole Partygate issue. Far from Tory pronouncements that the issue is a non-issue by attempting dead cat diversion (“I think what the public want to know/hear/understand is…”) it seems to me to be the only thing which people want to discuss. On social media it has been much the same. This government certainly couldn’t be criticised, in this instance, for a failure to bring the nation together in a common cause.

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Back in the autumn of 1997 there was much of a similar reaction following the death of Princess Diana when the country seemingly collapsed in a collective heap and feelings perhaps ran higher than for anything else that happened in that decade. One observer of the whole scenario was David Benson whose series of solo shows at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere have always been entertaining and a number of which are still accessible on the Scenesaver platform, including his first celebrated outing as Kenneth Williams in Think No Evil Of Us.  Nothing But Pleasure was booked as his follow up show and the title was advertised before Benson had any notion as to what the piece would be about. Having watched the nation’s collective grief as a somewhat detached observer via television and media coverage, he decided that the time was right to construct a commentary piece which deconstructed the whole event. It eventually went on to be retitled as Mourning Glory: Princess Diana And The Funeral Of The Century.

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Although there is a separate video recording of this tenth anniversary performance of the show available, I decided to go back to the original piece as performed in Edinburgh. Indeed, it is a recording of the very first performance and clearly never originally intended for wider viewing. As the blurb makes clear the camerawork at the start is rather lacking in focus (sometimes literally) but it soon settles down and it is intriguing to see a show which essentially is still in development being put in front of an audience for the first time. There is no set or costume employed and, other than a piano player, Benson is entirely reliant on his own skills as a raconteur and performer.

Thankfully these are not inconsiderable and as he takes us through events chronologically, we get to see him in multiple roles (including HRH and Tony Blair) as well as that of a dispassionate observer. In the latter role he expresses a degree of mystification about the sudden hagiographical approach to someone who had only recently drawn public opprobrium for her telling TV interview with Martin Bashir (back in the news fairly recently). The almost instant deification and subsequent outpouring of grief clearly puzzled him; I recall feeling the same, so on a personal level the piece chimes very well with my own experience. The examination largely puts to one side the various conspiracy theories which abounded at the time – though the Queen Mother comes in for some attention on that front. There’s also a brief diversion into the devastation that might or might not be caused by the millennium bug – remember that? Twenty five years on some of these notions about a carefully orchestrated accident in Paris are still around, but Benson prefers, rightly, to concentrate on the human dimension and the effect it had on the nation as a whole.

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Although the affair is a solemn one, Benson inevitably finds the humour in the situation, never more so when he plays various vox poppers expressing their somewhat cliched opinions. He’s also quite forensic when it comes to picking apart the detail of the funeral itself evoking sympathy for the two young princes – whatever became of them I wonder? – but not sparing of the various celebrities asked to attend. He’s particularly scathing/mystified about Elton John’s rewriting of Candle In The Wind. I’d be intrigued to know how the show went down when it first saw the light of day and the perceived wounds and scars were still fresh. Now that there is a good deal of distance from the late nineties perhaps we have got a better sense of perspective – though I suspect not.

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There are fewer digressions and a rather more linear approach than in some of Benson’s other solo shows and far less sense of a personal connection with the subject matter. However, it is still an interesting reminder of what the nation considered a difficult time. There are some undoubtedly rough edges to the piece as presented here and it might be quite instructive to see how much slicker the whole thing became by watching the ten years later anniversary version. Much as I admire David Benson’s work, that is perhaps something I shall save for a later date. The original title sums up my own feelings about his solo shows. They are always something from which one can learn but are constructed with an eye towards engagement and entertainment. Nothing But Pleasure indeed!

Nothing But Pleasure is available via Scenesaver – click here

Mourning Glory: Princess Diana And The Funeral Of The Century (the 10th anniversary revival) is available on You Tube – click here

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