Funny Faces - Theatre Review

2018 marks 60 years since Carry On first burst onto our screens with Carry On Sergeant. To celebrate the occasion, Next Page Productions present two short plays celebrating the lives of Joan Sims and Sid James, under the title Funny Faces. Each piece is a solo endeavour with each performer admirably bringing to life two of Carry On’s most memorable alumni. Written by Steve Dimmer, both pieces offer an intriguing look into the lives and attitudes of Sims and James.

The first play of the evening is SIMply JOAN. Sims, played by Caroline Nash, is taking a break from a wrap party in a props storage room. As she rests her feet, munches on a few vol-au-vents and guzzles down Diet Coke, the myriad objects around her lead her to muse on her past. From her childhood secretly performing in train station waiting rooms, to the cavalcade of memories from her Carry On family, Nash creates a warm and friendly Sims. Among the laughs, there are also some nicely realised moments of tragedy, not least Sims battle with alcoholism. It’s a testament to Nash and director Rosemary Hill that these moments are given enough room to breathe before Sims skips, trips and giggles into another funny little tale. Nash delivers a thoughtful and measured performance, and this piece leaves us feeling us if we have become good friends with the kindly Sims.

The second piece of the evening is entitled WOT SID DID, with Sid James played by writer Steve Dimmer. Taking place on 26th April, 1976 at the Sunderland Empire, we see James in his dressing room in the hours before his fatal heart attack on stage. In true Sid James fashion, we watch as he calls his wife, his lover, and his bookie, before delving into his past. Naturally, it being Sid James, some of his opinions on women seem unsavoury to modern ears, as he discusses his several marriages, affairs and the ‘love of his life’ Barbara Windsor. However Dimmer manages to make James a rather likeable chap in many ways. He seems kind, plucky and full of love for his friends. He’s unafraid to stand up for the underdog, and knows when to cut and run. And of course, when that notorious ‘dirty laugh’ pops up, the audience can’t help but laugh along knowingly. Dimmer puts in a great performance here, with some lovely direction from Rosemary Hill.

It is evident there has been a lot of careful research into the lives of both Sims and James. Thankfully, Dimmer has not fallen into the trap of merely repeating a methodical biography of both, but rather explores some of the more significant moments of their lives. Both pieces manage to lace many disparate memories together, whilst simultaneously highlighting where and how their individual character flaws might have begun to appear. WOT SID DID certainly has a nice fluid movement through Sid’s life, with each memory layered cleverly onto another. However, SIMply JOAN falls a little short of this, possibly due to the use of props to inspire most of her stories. As such it feels slightly clunkier than WOT SID DID, but nonetheless is still a fascinating insight into Sims’ life and character. Although tricky with a touring piece, it would be lovely to see this piece with a bit more spit-and-polish on the technical elements, including set, wigs and props, as this would easily heighten both pieces, although this is a very minor issue.

These two pieces are an enjoyable slice of entertainment, particularly for those even passingly familiar to Carry On and its talented alumni. A great evening to treat your fathers, mothers or grandparents to, it really does feel like an intimate evening with Sims and James.

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