The Slapstick Festival is a fabulous weekend of mainly silent films shown on a big screen with live music. It attracts huge enthusiastic audiences and this year featured classic Laurel and Hardy films as well as Buster Keaton’s ‘Seven Chances’ with pianist Rick Wakeman accompanying the film.

neil-rick-slapstick-fest-2015 photo by David Christie

There were interviews with Don McClean (Crackerjack), Denise Coffey (Do Not Adjust Your Set) and The Goodies, who chose their particular Laurel and Hardy favourites. Other guests were Victoria Wood introducing a Gloria Swanson film “Teddy at the Throttle”, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Barry Cryer and Ian lavender (Dads Army). Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer won this year’s ‘Aardman Slapstick Visual Arts Award’, and on the last night Stephen Fry joined the party.

The good thing about this festival is that people get to see and meet their favourite performers. Neil has a prominent part throughout the festival having been associated with it for many years. This year he was on stage with Denise Coffey talking about the 1967 TV show ‘Do not Adjust Your Set’ – which featured the Bonzos and some embryonic Monty Pythons.

1427058509629 photo by David Christie

It was great to see ‘Captain Fantastic’ again with Sir David Jason. Much later Neil introduced Viv Stanshall’s cult classic ‘Rawlinson End’ preceeded by a film Neil made while at Goldsmith’s Art School featuring Viv, Roger Spear and me. Even then you can spot Viv’s genius. I was told to just keep puffing out my cheeks and not take any notice of Viv – one of the most difficult things a very young drama student ever had to do. The Sunday evening concert was called “The Ginger Geezer” – a Celebration of Vivian Stanshall. There had been no chance to get together before the festival so Neil had to grab a couple of hours rehearsal in the cellars of Bristol’s Old Vic Theatre.

practice-slapstick-fest-2015 Photo by David Christie

The evening started off with a ‘dada tableau’ hastily devised by Neil involving Rodney Slater on bass clarinet, Ronnie Golden on mini electric guitar and the Desperate Men on just about anything.

The Desperate Men are a street theatre company who worked with Viv as long ago as ‘Stinkfoot.The Opera,’ on the Old Profanity Showboat In Bristol. The ‘tableau’ ended with an enthusiastic rendering of ‘My Pink Half of the Drainpipe’, and the dramatic entrance of Stephen Fry delivering the dada rant about “Lord Snootys Giant Poisoned Electric Head”. So there!!!

This was followed by Mike Livesley’s classic interpretation of ‘Rawlinson End’ accompanied by his amazing band ‘Brainwashing House’. Everyone then got together on stage for a singsong which included ‘Rhinocratic Oaths’ again spoken by Stephen Fry. This was one of the songs written by Viv and Neil for ‘The Doughnut in Grannie’s Greenhouse.’ It is an ambitious piece of music and Neil spent many hours relearning it for the show – even practising on the ballroom piano of a large hotel on the way down to Bristol.

There was only one vocal mike centre stage for all the guest performers (every available channel at the Bristol Old Vic had been used up) so there was a lot of polite jostling as the mike was passed from one to the other. All in all it was a glorious tribute to the Ginger Geezer – Viv would have loved the overall ambience of fun –filled and spontaneous chaos.

Photo by Lee Wilkinson Photo by Lee Wilkinson

The Slapstick Festival is a great weekend’s entertainment organised and directed by Chris Daniels and his team. Put a note in your diary for next January.