Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Phillips - review by Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes

The Entertainer

Dancing in the Dark

By

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It seems unlikely that prize-winning author Caryl Phillips was ever a fan of The Fast Show, British comedy’s daft hit of the 1990s. But if he were ever to catch an instalment, one character in particular might intrigue him – Arthur Atkinson, a squeaky-voiced parody of the light entertainment stars of the Second World War, shot in knowingly scratchy black-and-white, whose baffling catchphrase ‘Where’s me washboard?’ provokes hysterics in his audience but makes us laugh only through its overstated quaintness. The joke is reflexive – as notions of humour change through generations, Atkinson’s fate will certainly be that of the show itself, a falling away, first into nostalgia and then to obsolescence.

Dancing in the Dark is about a real-life entertainer whose name the world has long consigned to the dustbin of history – Bert Williams, king of American vaudeville at the cusp of the twentieth century, whom W C Fields was once moved to describe as ‘the funniest man I ever

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