Friday, 10 June 2016

Interview: James Hurn and 60th Anniversary of Hancock's Half Hour

In a celebration of the comedic genius of both Tony Hancock and the writing of Galton and Simpson, impressionist James Hurn marks the 60th Anniversary of Hancock's Half Hour with a one man show...

The Lion and Unicorn has rapidly become my second home as it now seems to be my "go to place" for fantastic and ground breaking theatre that makes me writing go all sound bitey. This sort of theatre matters as we need new and innovative thinking more than we need another Disney cross over show. Tony Hancock was a genius that pushed barriers with entertainment and indelibly stamped his mark within the comedy world. James Hurn has become an actor who's name is synonymous with effectively sounding like other people. Having worked on the hit BBC show, Dead Ringers, with Jon Culshaw, he has quickly become established as the 'go to voice impressionist' for Kenneth Williams and Sid James. I took the opportunity to chat with James, prior to the opening of his Tony Hancock, One Man Show, and discover more.

 Hi James and thank you for taking time out to chat about your show. Why focus on Tony Hancock? 

I grew up watching Hancock's Half Hour, and always listened to the Radio shows. As a teenager I always did The voices of Tony Hancock, Sid James and Kenneth Williams for family and friends. As this year is the 60th anniversary of Hancock's half hour, moving from the radio to the television I thought I would produce my own show to celebrate.

How important has Tony Hancock been to you and has he inspired your own routines and comedy brand?

Tony Hancock has been extremely important to me as a comedy actor because I learnt a great deal from his delivery and style of comedy. He has been a great inspiration to me as well as of course Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. I am greatly influenced by physical comedy, facial expressions etc and although Hancock and co began on the radio they too were very good at conveying there humour through extremely detailed facial expressions.

What was it like working with the legends that are Galton and Simpson? Was there any work needed to amend the show so it was workable for a one man format?

Initially I sent a recording to Galton and Simpsons agent asking if they would listen to it and possibly give there permission for me to perform it as a one man show. They said it was absolutely fantastic and would be delighted for me to perform it. I found that no adjustment was needed with the two particular episodes that I have chosen because Galton and Simpsons style of writing is delivered in such a way so that characters dialogue does not overlap each other and therefore I am able to switch from one voice to the other fairly quickly.

You're impressions of Kenneth Williams and Sid James have reached a level of critical acclaim, do you still get the same thrill of excitement when you perform as these undeniable comedy greats?

With the added attention that my video clips are getting on social media i would have to say that it heightens the thrill and it makes it even more of a pleasure to perform these comedy legends especially for people that are still to this day a major fan base for the originals.

As a comedy performer how would you say comedy has changed since Hancock's Half Hour? What would you say is the next direction for comedy?

Since the like of Hancock's half hour and the transition from radio to television I feel that the delivery and performance have changed a great deal. Of course as writers come and go and the world around us develops so too does comedy change. Although it does not take away from what has come before. As far as the direction that comedy is heading is concerned I believe that it will come full circle because when a generation of people are brought up on a certain kind of comedy it is those same people that one day become performers, writers, directors, camera crew and a whole heap of other skilled professionals and that is when the comedy that influenced them as a child starts to manifest itself through there work and social life.

What are the challenges for you as an actor or performer being well known for being other people?

Obviously actors make a living from being other people but its normally characterisation and not other "celebrities" The challenges are knowing what your audience wants in terms of which celebrity or character they would like to see you be able to imitate. Also writing new material as most audiences expect there to be a comical element when it comes to doing impressions. Sometimes we make little mistakes but I find that comedy audiences are very forgiving especially as it is not you making the mistake but the person you are doing the impression of!

Are there any plans to tour the show and what have you got coming up next?
I would love to tour this show. If next week goes well in Kentish Town, then I'll look at taking it on tour and I'm planning to take this to the Edinburgh festival next year. Coming up next, I am filming at Pinewood studios. A few short sketches involving Tony Hancock and some of the carry on gang!

Which comedians do you enjoy watching?

I am a huge fan of Laurel and hardy, The two Ronnies, Morecambe and wise, Leonard Rossiter, John Cleese, Billy Connolly,

Thanks again James and I look forward to reviewing the show next week. You can book tickets for James One Man show here Monday 20th June - Saturday 25th June at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre.

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