Last month, when Northern Soul spoke to Steve Delaney of Count Arthur Strong fame about his current tour, he confessed: “It’s just Arthur’s stream of consciousness, really… In a sense it’s difficult for me to explain what a live show’s about. The important thing is it looks as though Arthur is unwinding on the night and it’s never happened before.” At The Lowry, his Is There Anybody Out There? show lived up to these expectations, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
Yes, ostensibly it’s Count Arthur’s lecture on the subject of astronomy, but being the befuddled old duffer he is, it’s pretty much permanently off-topic. Instead it covers something like life, the universe and everything, taking in Hitler’s elixir of youth, accidentally buying a puma and what would happen if you hit a bat with a pineapple. And oh, but it’s glorious.
Unlike Delaney’s recent tours, this is pure Count Arthur, unadulterated by filmed inserts or second-string characters. That’s a hell of a commitment for Delaney, alone on stage for two hours every night, but the risk pays off beautifully. It’s the real deal, and if you’ve enjoyed the character in any form – TV, radio or live – you’re bound to appreciate the essence of him on display here.
Needless to say, you’ll learn next to nowt about the wonders of the cosmos, other than Arthur’s intense dislike of Professor Brian Cox and his unnecessary colon. The show falls into distinct sections, littered with running jokes and popular song and dance routines that would give Stars in their Eyes conniptions. It’s got a discrete structure, too, building in momentum until, once the second half is in full swing, you’re surrounded by audience members creasing up like tumbling dominoes.
There are rare, fleeting moments when Delaney overdoes it and the silliness feels too contrived, but they’re few and far between. Tangents are everything and a stray phrase can be a highlight. Delaney is capable of wringing humour from a look, a pause, the wayward pronunciation of a word, and most of the show consists of Arthur heading down cul-de-sacs and unexpected trains of thought, tying himself up in knots while off on flights of fancy until you’re so busy chortling that you forget where all this was meant to be going in the first place.
Is There Anybody Out There? is classic Count Arthur Strong, a marvellous character creation being expertly curated. With Delaney you’re in the hands of the master. The man’s a sodding marvel. Quite possibly it’s his strongest live show ever, and you’d be daft to miss it.
Count Arthur Strong’s Is There Anybody Out There? show is touring the UK until March 2020. For more information, or to book tickets, click here.