REVIEW: Flanders and Swann ‘hilarious’ as Bury Festival kicks off

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Bury St Edmunds Festival began last night with a number of performances taking place across the town.

My choice for the evening was Simon Townley and Tim FitzHigham’s performance of the wonderful wit and wordplay of Flanders and Swann.

Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh-Atkins star in Flanders & Swann

Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh-Atkins star in Flanders & Swann

The promotional leaflet promised a treat for ‘lifelong fans and for the uninitiated’.

I believe, belonging very much to the latter, it may have been even more special for those of us not brought up on their comedy songs, the punch lines in the songs being unknown and fresh.

Indeed, once you had relaxed into the setting and embraced the weird and wonderful tales of Hippopotamus, or hippopotami, Mud (mud glorious mud), The Gnu and of course the scarlet-painted, London Transport, diesel-engined, ninety-seven horsepower omnibus, you could feel the warmth in the room.

Most of the audience roared at every joke and joined in with the songs, but there were enough surprises for even the most avid of fans.

I have to admit I’ve never seen a music stand played as a musical instrument before.

FitzHigham was wonderfully funny, he commanded the stage with his smooth voice and talked through the songs with his wit and charm, nurtured in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea... Naturally.

His tales and jokes were perfectly timed and often left the audience breathless with laughter.

While his usual partner Duncan Walsh Atkins was replaced by Townley for this performance, there was still a rapport between the pair, even if the timing of the songs was sometimes off.

No matter, this seemed to add to the fun. Timing isn’t everything when you are singing about mud or making popping sounds with your cheek. As FitzHigham explained, there is something wonderfully funny about seeing a roomful of middle-class spectators shouting ‘woo’ with their hands in the air in the splendid surrounds of the Theatre Royal.

It was a wonderful start to Bury’s festival with a host of activities taking place across the next nine days.

Highlights across the weekend include street theatre for all the family from 11am to 3pm in the Abbey Gardens today, performances of the Tango, with free taster sessions from the professionals, Artheads creating a large collaborative piece in front of The Apex and the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra.

Details of all the events can be found at www.buryfestival.co.uk/whats-on/2016/05.