Review: Arthur Smith: Syd

Moving account of comic's late father

★★★
comedy review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Arthur Smith: Syd. Image: Steve Ullathorne
Published 15 Aug 2018

An affectionate tribute to “an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times”, Syd is the tale of Arthur Smith's father, a prisoner of war, policeman and, like his son, inveterate storyteller. Before he died, Smith requested his father write down his stories, which the comic shares, interspersed with evocative songs from the likes of David Bowie, The Kinks and his erstwhile inspiration Leonard Cohen, accompanied by The Smithereens' Ali Day and Kirsty Newton on piano.

Opening with and returning to his father's time as a P.O.W. in the infamous Colditz Castle, Smith juxtaposes the horrors of his father's experience fighting in the El Alamein desert with the freedom won, with his son a student teacher in Paris, protesting and sampling ménage à trois. Sex is a precious commodity in Syd: the urgency of Blitz couplings; an epic romance with a lost Italian love; the illicit flicker of criminalised homosexuality. Smith affords these stolen trysts the dramatic rendering they deserve. From an early description of his father as the best dad in the world, this is an unapologetic hagiography from the veteran standup, with Syd emerging as a decent man who had little desire to kill as a soldier and little desire to arrest as a copper when an admonishment would suffice.

A moving snapshot of incarceration under fascist oppression and 1950s London in particular, the inherently appealing testimony is slightly let down by comedian Kevin Day's unimaginative co-direction, which has a rather calculated, clockwork quality to it.