“I was going to call this show From Dibley to Dribley,” says Paul Mayhew-Archer, early in this enlightening hour. Mayhew-Archer is best known as the co-writer of long running sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, with Richard Curtis, and more recently the Roald Dahl adaptation Esio Trot, starring Judy Dench, Dustin Hoffman and lots of tortoises – he's got a decent gag about the latter production, too.
The real thrust of this show, though, and the reason for the title, is that our host now suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Actually, changing that terminology is one of the early messages here: "suffering" and "disease" are both words that send a negative message. Whereas Mayhew-Archer’s very presence on this stage is a positive statement, that comedy and his condition aren’t mutually exclusive. Laughing does you good, so you might as well joke about it, and this well-constructed hour certainly encourages that.
Incurable Optimist isn’t just about his current condition, but also heads back to schooldays, early writing experiences, and some Vicar of Dibley anecdotes; notably the manner in which he acquired a famously sweary nickname. Perhaps the most affecting moments here, though, are about his mother, whose experience with disease was a lot more painful—and a lot less informed—than his own.
“Parkinson’s has been great for me,” he says, as the preamble for further gags—nowadays you can’t tell if he’s drunk, which comes in handy at a festival—but there’s clearly a big grain of truth in that line too. He wouldn’t be doing a show here without it.