7 Spies At The Casino, Underbelly
Spend an hour in the company of Britain's first international screen star, war hero, quintessential chap and "forgotten" James Bond, David Niven. 7 Spies... strings together a bunch of Hollywood anecdotes - many from the pages of Niven's own books - with the story of the making of the first and greatest film version of Casino Royale - the best movie ever to feature Chic Murray shooting Orson Welles through a TV set. It is odd, however, that a show taking this celluloid delight as its subject should denigrate it so much, while also mentioning just about everything that made it great (Bernard Cribbins!, turbo-charged milk floats!!, a robotic Ronnie Corbett!!!)
Playing "Niv" is Paul Lavers, whom your funny uncle will remember from his role in Doctor Who in 1978 and your granny will remember as that nice blond fella from imperial phase QVC. Lavers' work for shopping channel means that he is quite at home chatting to an audience for an hour and, in make up, could be at least a long-shot double for Niven himself. Beyond the pencil moustache and evening dress, however, he presents far more than a caricature of Niven, taking us into the actor's life off set and skillfully shedding just enough light and emotion on personal tragedies amid the name-dropping.
James Goss' (yes, BBC "Who" website supremo) script is suitably dry and witty and consequently and correctly provides more chuckles than belly laughs. The grating effect of one of the production staff to raise bigger laughs during the performance I saw were not appreciated and became more distracting when the guffaws punctuated lines that were not even close to the denouement of the anecdote.
A well chosen set and sympathetic lighting evoke the cool chic of the swinging 60s well (although one would have thought the budget would have run to a couple more quid for an olive on a cocktail stick in Niv's martini!) in a piece that ably, amiably and honestly ressurrects one of Hollywood's legendary raconteurs.
NTW : Could have done with a little more in the way of visuals, stills from the film might be expensive but some sort of chart or diagram mapping the making of the movie could have provided both more visual stimulus and further opportunities for comedy.
JTD : Lavers' recounting the entire plot of the film and, almost, making it seem like it made some sort of sense is some achievement.