Ok, ok, there is no dark truth. It was a total delight from beginning to end, and I sumbit the following curtain-call selfie as evidence that a good time was had by all.
Here's the thing about Conley: He is, as we used to occasionally say at Covent Garden about people with a penchant for schtick, "one of us". He thinks of himself as a singer first. "I was born to sing", he says, "and everything else, I learned". But the thing is, that "everything else" covers quite a lot of ground. He is, to start with, a much better singer than you think he is, unless you've seen him in one of the many big musicals he's been in. Boys got pipes. He's also, of course, very funny - a stand-up with funny bones, but also plunges into audience participation, slapstick, fire-eating.. He's a vaudevillian - someone who can turn his hand to pretty much anything. An entertainer. And there ain't too many like that left.
He cut his teeth on Summer seasons, holiday camps and end of the piers, where to cultivate yourself into a swiss army knife of bits of business was the way to ensure a healthy career, and the stuff he started learning back then continues to make him one of the country's most invaluable pantomime performers, as well someone who, when he decides to, can sell out a national tour, which is what he did last month.
And my god, he's a worker. The James Brown of light entertainment, right there, ladies and gentlemen. There's no wasted time at the top of the show, no time spent "getting to know the feel of the room". He bounds on stage with a hearty "I'M HERE!", and literally within five seconds he's jumped off the stage, in knee-deep in the audience, lobbing out gags in between wall-shaking verses of "Let the good times roll". This is a seasoned fighter, bouncing around the ring landing jab after jab, totally able, as they say, to go the full 12.
Near on two and a half hours, minus me doing a quick twenty in the first half, the rest is all him. And its all killer, no filler. Routines polished over a career that spans all his adult life, and a fair bit before that, too.
For the best part of a month we pinballed around the country, doing a show, then driving through the night to wherever the next show was. Lots of grins from late-night garage shop staff as they recognise the face - or just as often the voice - that just strode up to them clutching coffee and a Kit-kat (He likes Kit-kats).
So, in short, I had a ball. Gorgeous audiences who were totally up for having fun. Some of the most beautiful theatres in the country. Being driven by Brian from gig to gig, while getting a steady stream of excellent andecdotes about the great and the good. What's not to like?
I also deliberately avoided the tour curse of eating crap and putting on weight - running every day (which is a very nice way to have a look around whatever town you happen to have woken up in), and eating healthlily. I actually managed to lose nearly a stone while on tour, which is insane, but here I am giving it a proper middle-aged man brag anyway. Sorry.
The last date was at Leeds City Varieties - one of my favourite rooms in the world, and one I've played enough times that when I rolled up at the stage door, the staff greeted me by name and started teasing me immediately. Nice. Can't think of a more perfect way to end the tour.
Took a few photos while we were on the road - hope you like them..
|A prop from the show. Yes, it is, in fact a puppppppettttt.|
|Always nice to bathe in the glory of the greats who have played a theatre before you|
|The boss, giving it tits and teeth|
|Me, giving it "Oh, if I must..."|
|Warming up backstage|
So thanks to Brian, and Rick and Gareth - the amazing team that put the show together every night - what a blast.
Also thanks to all the audience members who were kind enough to tweet me after shows and tell me how much they enjoyed my work - means so much. I'm spending most of the next few weeks doing some shows in various places abroad, but will head back to the Edinburgh fringe in August for a return season of my critically-acclaimed one man show "Showman". A strictly limited run of 16 shows only, so click here to book your tickets now!