What sort of show, exactly, is Cradle To Stage? It’s not stand-up, it’s not ‘an evening with’ nor ‘an audience with’. And yet it’s a bit of all three.
It is, simply, one man talking about his life with his only props some old photos, a rack of fezes (including a bandana with integral hair) and a snooker cue.
That may not sound very interesting, but this is Danny Baker we are talking about. If you listen to him on the radio, watch him on TV, or have read either or both of his two autobiographical books, you know what to expect. And you’ll know it is not only interesting, it is laugh-out-loud funny.
Many do listen to him and watch him, just like many have read his books and watched the TV adaption of them, Cradle To Grave, which in turn has inspired this live tour.
Worthing’s lovely old Pavilion Theatre didn’t have one spare seat as Baker walked out to start the show as he starts his weekly Radio 5 programme – by diverting off at weird and wonderful tangents before eventually getting somewhere roughly near what he planned to do or say.
The first half is a barrage of stories about his early life, covering everything from lucky escapes with fireworks to his dad swearing at Jimmy Tarbuck.
Apparently the original idea of this tour was that this section would whizz right through his childhood and radio and TV career. It doesn’t even reach halfway. Most nights on the tour he has not made it to the school-leaving stage of life - here, he didn’t even get to school.
As in the TV series, many of the funniest tales revolve around his straight-talking dad Spud, and it’s when delivering the old man’s classic one-liners and put-downs that Baker is at his funniest. Even if they are yarns you know from the books, they are just as funny re-told live in front of you.
Away from family life, Baker revels in stories about some of the greats he has met and in some cases befriended, such as Spike Milligan and Kenneth Williams - often through what Baker describes a ‘dumb luck’; in other words, outrageous good fortune.
His Tommy Cooper tale makes you laugh at the fact that people used to laugh at the great man even when he didn’t particularly mean them to.
The second half, loosely, is based on questions the audience can tweet or text in during the interval, though many of these ended up being answered with an anecdote that had little to do with the original enquiry.
I was pleased to hear mentions of his days in the 606 football phone-in hotseat and one or two stories first aired back then - like the hand grendade lobbed on to the pitch at Brentford then carried away at arm’s length by a man with a bucket of sand.
It reminded me I’d been listening to his radio shows for 25 years, and they are as funny and absorbing today as they were when I first heard him.
The thing with Baker is that you can’t give him a script and you can’t give him a timespan (the show was supposed to finish one hour and eight minutes before our last direct train back to Portsmouth - all you need to know is we missed that train). Either would restrict him.
He is talking of retiring from TV and radio soon and heading off to Florida to write stuff. But at Worthing he also hinted that, just like there is another book (or two, or three..) to come and another TV series (another two, or three..), there may need to be another tour (or two, or three..).
And I’d imagine every single person who’s seen this one will be back for more.
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