I saw John Osborne’s show last year, “John Peel’s Shed”, the story of how he won a competition in 2002 on the John Peel show and the prize was a box of records which took him eight years to get through. The show was basically Osborne playing a selection of these records and ruminating on the importance of the radio in his and our lives which doesn’t sound like much but it was really enjoyable and turned out to be a big hit which has subsequently toured the country. So how do you follow what appeared to be a one off show? This year, he has brought us “On the Beach” which basically is his observations and musings during a lunchtime walk on the beach at Weymouth.
Osborne has a shy, unassuming manner and you warm to him right away. He ambles on to the stage where we have been entertained since arriving in the theatre by a sequence of old seaside films projected onto a screen. He commences his monologue which is punctuated periodically by other seaside footage on screen. It is a beautiful sunny day in Weymouth where he is working in a summer school teaching uninterested Italian teenagers. To cheer himself up he takes a lunchtime walk along the beach and this leads on to a series of musings about the people he encounters and reminiscences about the importance of the beach in the British psyche.
He has a lovely turn of phrase – his description of the usual British summer weather as “windscreen weather sitting in the car eating cheese sandwiches..” but today it is “too hot for Coke weather, an Evian day”. He describes the people and things he sees – the family bonding over a game of cricket, the red postbox where countless seaside postcards have been sent to doting grandparents, the snogging couple, the skiving office workers, the old beach “pros” who come armed with their flasks and food. His talk is full of charming little vignettes which strike chords with the audience and raise ripples of laughter. The beach for Osborne is like the church or the gym for others, somewhere where he can wind down and make sense of things.
Once again, he has taken a simple premise and has managed to weave an entertaining set around it. It’s not as good as last year but it’s still a perfectly pleasant way to spend an hour.