As 'Monty Python' legend, 'Spamalot' scribe and general all-purpose national treasure Eric Idle freely admits, it’s “very difficult” to describe what, precisely, his latest venture 'What About Dick?' is. For the sake of brevity, I’ll sum it up as a part-musical-part-play-part-improv-comedy bonanza. On film. With a cast that boasts thoroughbred talent in the form of Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Tracey Ullman and (more dubiously) Russell Brand.
On paper this sounds like either a work of genius or an unholy mish-mash of badness. Fortunately, however, whilst it falls short of genius (Shakespeare can rest easy), it’s nevertheless extremely funny – particularly if you enjoy a liberal sprinkling of penis jokes.
Though the bizarre plot is somewhat secondary to the performances, 'What About Dick?' charts the decline of the British Empire and the rise of the vibrator, as narrated by a piano (Eric Idle). Performed in the style of a radio play, complete with microphone stands, handheld scripts and amusing sound effects, it’s a bawdy, riotous, camp and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek affair, poking fun at British culture, literature and history, amongst other things.
Russell Brand stars as Dick, a confused young man living with his hilariously repressed cousin Emma (Jane Leeves), her kleptomaniac sister Helena (Sophie Winkleman) and their alcoholic Aunt Maggie (Tracey Ullman). Tim Curry takes the role of the immensely gay Reverend Whoopsie; Billy Connolly puts on his best brogue as the unintelligible Scottish Inspector McGuffin and Eddie Izzard multi-tasks admirably as both the inventor of the vibrator and a Mr. Rochester-esque English gent.
Idle’s absurdist humour (and song-writing talent) work fantastically here, and his double entendres and wordplay-rich dialogue are brilliantly served by the cast, who appear to be enjoying themselves just as much as the audience. There are genuine belly laughs aplenty to be had, with some of the funniest moments emerging from fluffed lines and haphazard improvisations.
Brand’s performance is perhaps the only low point, appearing slightly weak and pallid when compared to the vibrancy and expert comic delivery of some of his far more experienced co-stars. Otherwise, this is a joyful production, sublime and ridiculous in equal measure.
Find more info on 'What About Dick?' and purchase at whataboutdick.com.