Live Review: Peter Fleming – Have You Seen?

peter fleming index
The Bill Murray, Angel, London, 20/10/2019.

Over the years quite a few comedians have taken on the persona of an actor or director and made very funny shows out of the concept, but Tom Burgess has done something quite unique in his new show where he comes on stage as Peter Fleming, the creator of many a children’s tv show like Professor Zany’s Mad Laboratory, Nicholas The Mischievous Cupboard and Mrs Peregrine’s Wingless Birds, all of which made me strangely nostalgic for a selection of television programmes which have never actually existed.

Made during the sixties and seventies sadly all of Fleming’s work was “accidentally” wiped by the BBC but Fleming is now on tour, hoping to find someone who might have a dusty old film can in their attic which has one of his programmes on, and is now more interested in that then where his missing son is these days. Given that the various series no longer exist he can’t show them to us alas, but he does the next best thing and acts them out on stage, taking on as many as seven different characters per skit.

In what’s a very, very funny and often hilarious show these are the highlights, Burgess is superb at acting out the sketches and makes all of the characters notably different indeed, despite often only using a pair of glasses or a hat to differentiate between them all, and many a time nothing at all. Professor Zany (with his catchphrase “Scrumpydacious!”) is one of the best but after receiving complaints from scientists his successor, Doctor Straightlace, is almost as funny, and impressively there’s not one bad or misjudged sketch within the hour.

There’s also a wide variety of different types of shows on display, like when we get to witness The Bicycle Shop where a young boy is put in charge of a shop but due to the sexism that was prevalent on tv at the time the girl who saves the day gets no recognition at all, in what’s mostly a very good-natured look back at the past it’s a rare but pointed acknowledgement that as much fun as shows akin to those represented here were they weren’t without their problems. Though pleasingly he doesn’t taint the character with the scandals which hit many a Children’s tv presenter in the seventies and eighties, and this is an endearing tribute to more innocent times.

As well as tv shows there were also some adverts that he made for Matey bubble bath, and a whole bunch of merchandise was created too, and all of this goes to show just how inventive and imaginative Burgess is. The character of Peter Fleming is a glorious one, a slightly fusty but incredibly enthusiastic man who clearly had a passion for working in children’s tv, and though a slightly tragic past is occasionally hinted at it only serves to make this rather genial and charismatic man all the funnier.

A show which will appeal to anyone who has a fondness for the kind of weird fantastical tv series which are rarely made in this day and age, Burgess has created something all rather special here. The news that he is planning on working on a new show featuring Fleming pleased me no end, it’s a character who could run and run for a long old time and I can’t wait to see what Burgess does with him next.

★★★★

Alex Finch.
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Related Link:
Tom’s Official Site.

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