The material in Thin Ice is thin - a day in the life of an ageing actor ne’er-do-well actor - Alan Ford’s delivery is hilarious. Ford, whose cinema work includes Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Long Good Friday, transforms himself from Charlie Harwood, the irrepressible East London chancer, to Lina, Charlie’s “gorgon” ex, telling a busload of people how he broke her ‘eart.
The fact that Ford reads his self-penned script is at first discouraging. But in no time we are immersed in the vivid details of Charlie’s ill-starred day. The episode where Charlie auditions for an ice cream commercial is side-splitting, and the show closes with Chalie’s zillionth one-night stand. The position is delicate on this occasion, as his coke-sniffing leading lady has arthritis in her hip.
THE IRISH TIMES
The Edinburgh Festival will be infested with many one-man shows, none funnier, I wager, than Alan Ford’s Thin Ice at the Old Red Lion in Islington (0171-837 7816). Ford is a Cockney character actor whose unpublished first novel - I’d rush, if I were a publisher - is the source of a deliriously funny, politically incorrect account of a day in the life of a heavy-drinking, coke-sniffing contemporary thesp who wens his way through traffic jams to humiliating auditions and a sexual encounter with a soignée star whose arthritic hip necessitates awkward positions for congress on the rug.
When I stopped laughing, which was not often, I reflected on several qualities in this piece: Ford’s exact observation of London topography, bus routes, human vanities and linguistic traits; his interestingly pitched on/off love affair with his cruel profession; his ability to spin a good yarn; and his open heart. His spiel cascades in the splendid working-class, East London tradition of Ken Campbell and Steven Berkoff; the three of them should arrange a festival of their own.
The Week In Reviews
by Michael Coveney
THIN ICE Old Red Lion, Edward Simpkins
The actor as East End hero, no different from the Cockney wide-boys who flog fake perfume to the crowds on Oxford Street, is a delightful concept, no doubt intended as a playful smack in the mouth to those luvvies who take their craft too seriously.
Womanising, hard-drinking and getting through the day with the few quid left in his pocket are the main preoccupation’s of “resting” actor Charlie Harwick, the loveable star of the monologue by Alan Ford. Charlie is a cool, wry, detached character who life just won’t leave in peace.
He wakes up in a strange woman’s bed, dons his
Armani suit (liberated from the props department) and stumbles into his battered Cortina for a fight with the traffic as he heads eastwards and home. But comic misadventures are heaped on the poor man from the moment he steps out of the door.
If he’s not dicing with death in the shape os articulated lorries or fending off screeching harridans at the bus stop, he’s dealing with idiotic casting directors and indulging in ill-fated and bizarre sexual adventures.
This reading from Ford’s novel of the same name keeps a permanent grin on your face, and it is both beautifully written and well performed. I must admit to approaching a performance about an actor’s life with some trepidation. But Ford’s is such a fresh and quirky take that I was entirely won over. There is not the slightest whiff of eulogy or indulgence. Everything, be it driving through rush hour traffic or walking down the street, is described in exquisite detail, building up vivid pictures of the hilarious ups and downs of Charlie’s day.
It all rings so true that one suspects there must be a strong element of autobiography in Ford’s novel. For a start, he is of the same age, profession and background as Charlie, having spent much of his acting career as a Professional Cockney. I remember him best as a boxing promoter invited onto the Alan Partridge Show, who takes umbrage at hints that he might be a criminal.
What’s more, he looks the part exactly. He has grey hair: he sports tinted, aviator-style glasses and black shirt with a white panel on the chest: and he has a couple of big rings on his fingers. Part way, perhaps, between a bank robber turned night-club owner and stalwart of Isle of Dogs’ darts teams.
Ford proves himself highly versatile, imitating a variety of characters - male, female, Irish and homosexual - without resorting to stereotype. The end result is rather like the best bits from a series of Minder (in which Ford has appeared) all rolled into one. It’s great fun, it’s rude and it’s darling, and you can learn some good new Cockney rhyming slang along the way.