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Arthur Smith, Soho Theatre review - charming tribute to his father | reviews, news & interviews

Arthur Smith, Soho Theatre review - charming tribute to his father

Arthur Smith, Soho Theatre review - charming tribute to his father

Nostalgia, songs and old jokes

Arthur Smith's show is based on his father's memoirsSteve Ullathorne

There has been a trend in stand-up comedy in recent years for intensely personal shows, confessional even, but it’s the comic’s life that is usually the one being examined for comedic effect. With Arthur Smith’s latest show at Soho Theatre, however, it is his dad’s life being described here, and what a life.

Syd is a funny and touching account of a life well lived. Smith bases the show on the memoir he asked his father to write, which described, among other things, his wartime experiences at El Alamein and as a prisoner of war in Colditz. He later became a policeman whose south London beat was home to some interesting characters, vividly brought to life here.

It’s unashamed hagiography, but Smith’s description of his father as the best dad in the world can be allowed. We learn that Syd was a decent man who didn’t want to kill when he was a soldier, and who believed that a quiet word of admonishment was mostly all that was called for when he was a bobby on the beat 

Smith and his dad, who died in 2004, visited Colditz Castle after it had become a hotel, and his response on seeing it for the first time in decades says so much about the ex-soldier: "There it is." Smith senior also injected some morbid humour into the visit but his taste in comedy was usually more straightforward, and Smith is in his element telling some old corkers that his dad loved.

One section strikingly contrasts the comic's carefree youth with what his father lived through at the same age. Smith had a great time when he went to Paris as a teenager, taking part in political demonstrations and having a ménage à trois; at about the same age Syd was fighting at the Battle of El Alamein and then eating rats when starved in an Italian PoW camp. 

Smith, who loves to give his gravelly singing voice a go, intersperses some songs – old and modern – to underline a few points, to pianist Kirsty Newton’s accompaniment. Some neatly underline a point, others get in the way of the narrative.

The comic's not above a bit of nostalgia, too, mentioning the days before we all had telephones and televisions, of drinking sarsaparilla and walking in wintertime smogs, but he undercuts any talk of the good old days by describing the world his father policed – turning a blind eye to a gay man who would otherwise have been jailed for gross indecency, or helping a young woman whose suicide attempt would have resulted in prosecution.

Smith brings Syd to life magnificently, and while he may indeed have been “an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times”, this is a rather special tribute.

One section strikingly contrasts the comic's carefree youth with what his father lived through at the same age


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.