Review: Paul Merton's Silent Clowns, Grand Opera House, York

Friday 10th April 2009 By Charles Hutchinson

THE concept is not entirely new: show some old silent movies, add live musical accompaniment. City Screen, in its Tempest Anderson Hall days, did so in York; Wetherby Film Theatre had a Laurel & Hardy night; others did too.

The added factor, however, in Paul Mertonís Silent Clowns is Mr Merton himself. Only the night before, on Monday, City Screen had a comedian (the frantic Rhod Gilbert) performing in Screen One; now we had a night of films in a theatre being hosted by another comedian, this one at ease in his frock coat and specs and open shirt as he introduced the works of the well known and not so familiar with his winning combination of charm, a love of his subject and knowledge that bore fruit in his book Paul Mertonís Silent Comedy.

As we know from his impro comedy nights and even Have I Got News For You, he can be a team player. On Tuesday he was happy to play second fiddle, or more accurately third fiddle, as he kept his comments brief, witty, astute and informative before each short film, taking his seat while the spotlight fell on the spontaneous piano playing of Neil Brand, his musical commentary a dazzling treat in itself.

Merton chose his film shorts with impeccable judgement: building from the Wallace & Gromit-style mechanical wizardry of Slum Pollardís Itís A Gift, through the French surrealism of Artheme Swallows His Clarinet, to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardyís vertigo-inducing tale of wrong trousers and nipping lobsters, and onwards to the elegant gymnastic ťlan of hangdog Buster Keatonís marital handicap chase, Seven Chances.

Letís hope that Merton and Brand return with more wonders of the silent age, and maybe next time the theatre will be full. Trust me, silence is still golden.