Way Dan tells 'em captures Frank to a tee
There are two things you need to know about Happenstance Theatre Company's new production, A Rebel Without A Pause, a rollercoasting, barnstorming, all-targets-hit account of the life and jokes of Belfast's Frank Carson.
The first is that any one of the very, very many who will turn out to see this show on its short run now in Northern Ireland and in the months and years to come here and elsewhere - for this will be a classic production - will discover that, for all Carson was one of the most recognised faces in Britain and Ireland for 50 years, they knew nothing at all about him.
The second thing is, this is the most memorable one-person show from Northern Ireland since Richard Dormer's blistering Hurricane 13 years ago and features a performance by Dan Gordon of breathtaking virtuosity.
Setting the show around the 1985 episode of This Is Your Life, which ambushed Carson on his return to England after a sell-out show in Dublin, may be an orthodox framework for a biopic-style production, but that's where the orthodoxy ends.
The packed premiere on Tuesday night at The Strand Arts Centre was introduced to some harrowing tales of Carson's impoverished childhood in the docks area of Belfast and a string of surprising and often shocking - sometimes extremely moving - reminiscences of boyhood ambition, harsh domestic discipline and family bereavement.
In a section which will live long in the memory, accounts of Carson's time as a 20-year-old squaddie on peace-keeping duties in Palestine proved a remarkable forerunner to civil violence in his native place 25 years later, by which time Carson was earning £5,000 a night in working men's clubs in England. Gordon, though, never lets the pace drop, or the mood darken, interspersing these difficult memories with frequent anarchic visits to the stand-up microphone, treating the audience to a firestorm of jokes, shaggy-dog stories and devastatingly funny one-liners, all out of the top drawer of Carson's voluminous repertoire.
A backing track of superb sound effects and some spare, but inventive, lighting match Gordon's choreography as he moves from poignant chats with a dead brother and Pope John Paul II - a stunning facial evocation making the now-dead pontiff hilariously recognisable before a word was spoken - to manic encounters with the microphone.
Some of the jokes are, in fact, almost monuments in themselves - the wasp in the window, the corporal chastised for not being seen on camouflage duty, the city so tough even the chair arms had tattoos, the tremendous wounded Falklands veteran gag - but, as Carson/Gordon insists, it's the way he tells 'em.
Spike Milligan remarked, after working with Carson, that the difference between the comic and the M1 was that you could turn off the M1.
There could easily have been another 20 minutes of this wonderful Frank Carson reincarnation without exhausting the rapt attention of the audience.
Whether Dan Gordon could sustain any longer this chaotic, energetic Riverdancing character is quite another!
By the end of this run, he will certainly be one of the "sveltest" actors in the business.