Peter Fleming and Wilbur Bilb: Over the Airwaves

The blurb reads:Retired children’s TV pioneer Peter Fleming staggers through a dusty presentation of his BBC programmes. Child detective Wilbur Bilb follows his latest case through the seedy undersides and socio-political landscapes of Brum.

Okay, could be a hidden gem, could be undergrad tragic. There’s no obvious indication of the vintage of the two performers so my appalling reverse ageism strikes again as I’m handed a flyer by a fresh-faced young man at the entrance to the Dragonfly. I’m thinking: they’ll probably try very hard and it could be funny in places but the targets will be obvious and the cultural references narrow and recent. What joy then that I was proved completely wrong.

The show is in two separate, equal length parts. The first features Tom Burgess as Peter Fleming – musty old presenter of long-gone hardly-missed programmes for children. Fleming gets to re-visit his ‘range’ of characters from yesteryear with a handful of retro props including a genuine Matey’s bubble bath bottle (impressive!) As you would expect with the old salty sea-dog persona we sail into Captain Pugwash and The Navy Lark waters of innuendo. But – as with all the other references – it’s done with a deep understanding of the genre. No ‘Anyone remember The Clangers?’ laziness here. There’s also a refreshing lack of just saying Jimmy Savile or Rolf Harris and then mugging at the audience for an easy laugh.There are jokes aplenty but is also a touching melancholic feel as Peter Fleming fades from the airwaves and ends his time with us.

Act two. Wilbur Bilb (as played by Sam Nicoresti) bursts from behind the audience all confused aggression as a former (expelled) pupil addressing a school open day. He takes an audience member hostage to act as his sidekick in the ensuing tale (don’t worry if it’s you – you’re treated kindly and there aren’t many lines to learn). Sam acts as narrator, Wilbur and all other characters – including his milfy mum which gives him the chance to display some classic farce moves. The narration is Chandleresque with Sam channeling his best Bogart as Spade. You may think spoofing this particular genre is nothing new but it’s given a genuinely funny – and dare I use the word surreal? – twist with Wilbur, child detective, like the boy from The Tin Drum joining The Famous Five.

It wasn’t until some way into Wilbur’s tale that I thought – I recognise these guys. I saw them last year in Sketch Thieves (as Sam and Tom) playing Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee as the Human Centipede. I was intrigued then and I’m so glad I’ve seen more of what they can do. I suspect there are some classic British ghosts in their comedy machine (I glimpsed Michael Bentine’s Potty Time in the Peter Fleming section).  Their comedy is clever (but not annoying Footlights clever), nostalgic, energetic and funny with definite potential to get cult status.

(Review for 9 Aug)




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