Comedy Reviews

Johnson and Boswell – Late But Live

20 August 2007 | Comedy Reviews
Originally published at The Groggy Squirrel.

Openly insulting Scotland to its face has become a recurring theme in the latest works of Stewart Lee. Thankfully, it is an imagined Scotland of haggis and shortbread and an arachnid Robert the Bruce that is the object of his comedy scorn and the result is very, very funny.

“To say that a Scot speaks English,” opines his devised version of Samuel Johnson, “is to say that a dog eats a bone when in fact he merely mauls it”.

Such is the meat of this piece of comedy theatre: Simon Munnery as Dr. Johnson, lambasting Scotland for what he perceives to be its incivilities and peculiarities. In a belated book launch for Johnson and Boswell’s ‘A Journal of a tour to the Hebrides’, ‘Late But Live’ is a combination of stand-up comedy and theatre successfully blurring the boundaries between the two.

Simon Munnery is brilliant as Johnson. Perfectly cast, Munnery even looks like the good doctor and the parallels between this new character and Munnery’s infamous ‘League Against Tedium’ creation are myriad. A robust and regal creature, turgid with Nietzche-like witticisms and angry judgements.

Miles Jupp, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Archie the Inventor in BBC Scotland’s ‘Balamory’, makes a first-rate Boswell. He starts out as a smug champion of Johnson’s work (if always operating in his shadow) and ends up as his victim and appologist.

It’s difficult to say exactly how much input Stewart Lee had into this cleverly shaped piece of comedy theatre but it has many of his hallmarks. There is even a cheeky mention of Lee’s erstwhile colleague Patrick Marber (“the Johnson to his Boswell; the Marber to his Coogan”).

The play falters a little in the fourth act but its important to remember that Edinburgh is designed to be a launch pad for new material and a Petri dish for bold experiments. ‘Jerry Springer – the Opera’ felt a little half-baked at the Assembly Rooms back in 2003 and is now a tight and worthy object of international recognition. It feels good to be present at the start of something excellent.

Whether ‘Late but Live’ becomes a phenomenon of Jerry Springer proportions remains to be seen (or whether that is the intent) but it certainly has the potential.