BRITISH THEATRE WEB starstarstarstarstar

I have just returned from The Edinburgh Festival where I took in 18 shows in 4 days. Saw some great stuff and some absolute rubbish, but one show stands out by a mile.

ABFCAP - The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury, is BRILLIANT.

It's like being in the room with Ian and "Spider". It gives you insight into both men, and tells a fascinating story with both humour and brutal reality.

The musical interludes are fantastic, but dont go just for the music. Go to get to know Ian and Spider. It's a roller coaster ride through one of Rock and Rolls great stories. Pithily told by two amazing actors Jud Charlton and Josh Darcy.

Its on at The Zoo in Edinburgh for the rest of August

Just go!

Ray Jones
Brand Development Director


Fred Spider Rowe came to the opening performance - after seeing the show:

"This was such a nostalgic experience for me. It took me right back to those times. Jeff has written a fantastic script and the two actors get it just right. Jud as Ian has the right sort of temperament, loveable one minute and hostile the next. I cannot believe how well Josh plays me. Apart from being much more handsome, he has got the mannerisms off to a tea. The stories come across just as they happened. This is a really great production and I am so proud of it."

FRINGE REPORT starstarstarstarstar

ABFCAP: The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury
Verdict: A legend in the round

Edinburgh 08 - The Zoo

3-25 August 2008 – 13.25

ABFCAP: The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury tells the story of the critically-acclaimed singer and songwriter who penned such songs as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and What a Waste.

The first act takes place in 1980 when Ian Dury (Jud Charlton) is at the height of his fame. But years of touring with his band, The Blockheads, have taken their toll and he has an alcohol problem which is spiralling. His drinking is alienating his friends and colleagues and he refuses to apologise for anything, even when he is clearly in the wrong. Matters have finally come to a head and his tour manager and friend, Fred 'Spider' Rowe (Josh Darcy), has come to try to reason with his boss - during a recent drinking binge Dury offended Spider's new girlfriend and Spider wants an apology.

The pair start to talk about old times and Dury's childhood, brought up by his mother and aunt, then sent to a special school after contracting, and being crippled by, polio.

It soon becomes clear that Spider is Dury's protector and has saved him from countless situations which could have ended in disaster. Several tour anecdotes end up with Spider confiscating Dury's leg-irons and confining the singer to his hotel room to avoid him getting up to any mischief. As Spider says 'My job is to guide him through the shark-infested waters of rock and roll.'

Dury refuses to apologise to Spider, who leaves vowing never to speak to him again.

The play revisits Dury in 1990 when he is reunited with Spider for the first time in ten years, a meeting catalysed by the death of the Blockhead's drummer. He is a different man and apologises saying he is determined to make everything right with great plans for himself, Spider and The Blockheads. He is guilty about the way he has treated his friends and wants to atone.

The third act - in 2000 - reveals whether his contrition was genuine. It features Spider on the occasion of Ian Dury's death.
The dramatic sections of the play are punctuated with songs from Ian Dury's back catalogue, each relating to some part of the plot. The mix works perfectly and the passage between dialogue and music never seems strained.

Jeff Merrifield
's script is faultless and clearly the work of a writer who has a great understanding of his subject. The pace of the whole performance is brisk but the direction is never hurried.

Jud Charlton
is superb as Ian Dury. He resists delivering a two-dimensional rock-star pastiche and instead produces a believable fleshed-out character, free of cliché. When he sings the lyrics written by Ian Dury, it is not difficult to suspend disbelief and imagine that it is the man himself on stage.

Josh Darcy
plays Spider as a barrel-chested gentle giant who, while clearly capable of great violence, just wants a quiet life. Again, his performace is impossible to fault and there is a spark between the two actors which makes their on-stage relationship all the more believable, creating a truly affecting finale. There is an obvious passion for the subject matter from everybody involved in the production and this passion is delightfully infectious, even for those who have never heard the name Ian Dury.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Jud Charlton - Ian Dury. Josh Darcy - Fred 'Spider' Rowe.
Company Credits: Writer/Director - Jeff Merrifield. Technical Director - Des O'Leary. Company - Playback Theatre.

(c) David Hepburn 2008
reviewed Monday 4 August 2008 / The Zoo, Edinburgh
Fringe Report (c) Fringe Report 2002-2008


METRO Wednesday 6 Aug 2008 
ABFCAP: The Life And Rhymes Of Ian Dury
Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ian and Spider

Ian Dury had a twin called Tom. Looking exactly like the singer and wordsmith, Tom usually made an appearance when Dury had been drinking heavily. Which, apparently, was quite often. Dury's talent for wordplay is shown to have jostled with a seething and stubbornly destructive streak in this two-hander written and directed by veteran community arts playwright Jeff Merrifield.
Culled from interviews with Dury himself as well as friends and colleagues, ABFCAP focuses on three junctures in the Dury story: 1980, after his initial spurt of fame in the late 1970s, 1990, when one of his band, The Blockheads, dies and 2000, the year of his own death from liver cancer.
Seguing from heated dialogues to confessional monologues to live bursts of staples such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Jud Charlton shines as Dury, while Josh Darcy is occasionally hilarious as Dury's exasperated minder Spider. Though slightly too long and with a perhaps inescapably flat dénouement, this makes a valiant stab at being as spirited as Dury was, tracing the often poignant journey of two co-dependents while giving an insight into the riotous world of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll.
Until Aug 25 (not Aug 11 or 18), The Zoo (V124), 1.25pm.


The nearly, the once and the allegedly famous

By Ian Shuttleworth

First part of review talks about the number of celebrity appearances in Edinburgh shows...

And if you can’t find any actual celebrities or near-celebs for your production, simply do a show about one. This year’s programme includes I Am Robert Mugabe, Caruso and the Quake and the return of Philip York’s enjoyable Lies Have Been Told: An Evening With Robert Maxwell (although in this case, the evening begins at 2pm).

A strong recommendation, though, is due to Playback Theatre for their ABFCAP: The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury (The Zoo). Jeff Merrifield’s script covers three decades of the symbiotic relationship between the singer and his sometime road manager, failed criminal Fred “Spider” Rowe. Josh Darcy’s Spider is a gentle giant, and Jud Charlton is altogether remarkable as Dury, right down to the phrasing on the handful of musical numbers (performed to, in some cases, backing tracks by the Blockheads themselves). Terrific stuff, and entirely true to Dury and Rowe’s argot: if the venue ran a swear-box, Playback would be bankrupt within 90 seconds.

Ian Shuttleworth’ - Financial Times

the stage

ABFCAP: The Life and Times of Ian Dury

Playback Theatre
The Zoo until Monday August 25, 2008
Openly a celebration of and love letter to the singer-songwriter who produced some of the wittiest lyrics of the punk rock era, Jeff Merrifield’s play catches Ian Dury at three points from his peak in the 1980s to his death in 2000.
While the dramaturgy is rudimentary, generally consisting of Dury and his friend/minder/roadie Fred ‘Spider’ Rowe either telling each other things they already know or taking turns addressing the audience directly with memories and anecdotes, the details and performances do accumulate to build a living portrait of the man with all his flaws and contradictions.
It would have been easy to make him just a generic bad boy of rock’n’roll, but Merrifield makes believable connections between Dury’s childhood polio, which left him crippled, and both his creative energy and his dissipation of it. The guy who could be loved and hated by those around him in almost equal measure was paradoxically as happy with a cup of tea as with a bottle of brandy, content to alternate cutting-edge rock with TV ad voiceovers.
Supported by Josh Darcy’s exasperated and loving Spider, Jud Charlton not only does a spot-on impersonation of Dury, both speaking and singing, but creates a rounded, sympathetic character you don’t need to know the original to respond to.

Review by Gerry Berkowitz - The STAGE.
Published online at 12:58 on Monday 11 August 2008


The Herald

Hit me with your rhythm shtick...
ABFCAP - The Life And Rhymes Of Ian Dury The Zoo
star rating: star

Blame John Peel. Ever since the most influential radio DJ on the planet died in 2004, a mini wave of onstage homages to punk rock's fallen idols has recaptured the original spirit of spit'n'sawdust pub theatre. Clash frontman Joe Strummer was first out the traps a couple of years ago in Meeting Joe Strummer, and Peel himself was reimagined in 2007. Both said something about a demographic of boys - and it was exclusively boys - inspired by such icons, who'd now come of age enough to repay some kind of creative debt.

So it is with ABFCAP - The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury, Jeff Merrifield's warts-and-all portrait of the man who put the phrase "sex and drugs and rock and roll" into the national psyche, and whose saucy lyrics were a pop-art music hall knees-up set to a whip-smart funk backing and radiating the spirit of punk.

Set over 20 years of sparring between Dury and his long- suffering minder, Spider Rowe, what follows is no glossed-over hagiography for ageing punks to get dewy-eyed over, but an often uncomfortable portrait of a complicated, contrary and often unpleasant man.

When on stage, this vision of Dury is awkwardly charismatic; in private, he too often treats his band and his women with a contempt borne of the need to look after number one.

Developed out of a series of interviews with those Dury left behind, ABFCAP (an acronym of the unpublishable opening line of Plaistow Patricia) there's probably not anything here Dury aficionados won't already be well-versed in. The cockney fakery and Andrew Lloyd Webber's approach to Dury to pen the lyrics for Cats is legend, as is the tale of how the bassline of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll was nicked off jazz free-former Charlie Haden's contribution to an Ornette Coleman record.

What there is beyond the occasionally shoe-horned expositional riffs is a bucketload of honesty and an uncanny performance by Jud Charlton, whose resemblance to the old geezer himself, both vocally and physically, makes the experience akin to being present at a very private gig.

Dury himself recognised the inherent theatricality of his back catalogue, and maybe the jukebox musical is yet to come. For now, though, through Merrifield's play, Andrew Lloyd Webber's loss is our gain.



Evening News

Insight into life of flawed artist

Published Date: 11 August 2008
The Life And Rhymes Of Ian Dury starstarstarstar
The Zoo

PUBLICLY, Ian Dury seemed to be a cheeky chappie. Privately, like many artists, he wrestled with a variety of demons. Using interviews with the singers' friends and colleagues, playwright Jeff Merrifield compiled a portrait of the flawed maestro, focusing on three key moments in his history – at the peak of his success, on the cusp of a comeback and just after his death.

Jud Charlton and Josh Darcy as Dury and his long- time friend, Fred Rowe, were both exceptional. More subtly, the play captured the feel of each time period exactly.

Merrifield offers an insightful glimpse of the troubled 'genius in adversity'.

Until August 25

EVENING NEWS READER'S REVIEW: Jon O'Neil, 47, mechanic, Longstone: "I saw ABFCAP at The Zoo. I was a big Ian Dury fan and this was a great gig. I missed the chance to ever see him on stage but the actor playing Dury really brought him to life. I didn't know many of the details about his life and I'm not sure that before the show I wanted to. But there was nothing sleazy and tabloid about the way the show approached it and the music was spot on."

Bill Bailey

ABFCAP: the Life & Rhymes of Ian Dury...
Go and see this fantastic show!

Bill Bailey
as recommended to
his own audience at the
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
on 13 Aug 2008


In ABFCAP: The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury, at the Zoo venue, Josh Darcy plays Fred “Spider” Rowe, Dury’s minder. To research the role Darcy visited the formidable ex-con. Rowe was helpful, but his parting words (give or take a few consonants) were: “Don’t muck it up, you runt."


Three Weeks

ABFCAP: The Life And Times Of Ian Dury

Playback Theatre

This was an amusing insight into the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle that Dury led with his band, the Blockheads. The play was more of a series of anecdotes interspersed with musical numbers from the band's heyday than a plot-driven performance, but this seemed to suit the subject, given that the life of a rock star often appears to be a series of incidents rather than a continuous story. It did, however, give the impression that this was a play where nothing much happens. One thread that ran throughout was Dury's often fraught relationship with his manager, and this was portrayed well by the actors. For those intrigued by life behind the scenes of a rock star.

The Zoo, 1 - 25 Aug (not 11 or 18), 1.25pm (2.35pm), prices vary, fpp 180

Three Weeks rating: starstarstar

published: Aug-2008


ABFCAP: THE LIFE AND RHYMES OF IAN DURY (World Premiere) starstarstarstarstar
Reviewed by Jacqueline Sharp for Carrickfergus Biz and Counter Culture

Playback Theatre at The Zoo - 3 to 25 August 2008 at 13.25 (70 mins) £7.00 (£5.00)
Directed by Jeff Merrifield
Technical Director: Des O'Leary

I was curious about this production, there isn’t much around, nowadays, keeping alive the life and works of Ian Dury, it had a lot to live up to! To date, radio plays, blast out the occasional hit of Ian Dury and The Blockheads, a testimony to his life works, but after his death from liver cancer in March 2000, something more than just radio play had to work to keep alive the real Ian Dury. The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury, by Jeff Merrifield did just that, lived up to being a world premiere, with world class cutting edge drama.

The audience were blown away by this larger than life character. Just like his song lots of sex and drugs and rock “n” roll stories and lots swearing of course. Yeah there swearing, a lot of it, the F Word, but that didn’t prevent the audience being mesmerised, by it all, lots of laughs, claps, smiles and cheers for Jud Charlton, as Ian Dury, and Josh Darcy, in role as Fred “Spider” Rowe.

Jeff pitched The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury over a span of twenty years, concentrating on his life, from 1980 to 2000, split into three parts of his life, leading up to his death of cancer in 2000. You get your moneys worth, a lot jam packed into seventy minutes, all of which portrays his life well. There are many memorable and hysterically laughable scenes, for you to think about afterwards. You will enjoy hearing about the relationships he had with those closest to him, there are many highs and lows, as him seeming to be a difficult character to get along with. His tour manager Fred, aka Spider, was always at the brunt of his temper! One particular argument made the two part company for a while, with some very emotional scenes seeing the two reunite after some time.

My favourite scene was a mock interview with Ian Dury and Janet Street Porter. Josh in character, has the audience in hysterics as he dons a red wig and mocks her accent, to perfection. Another funny scene sees Jud in role as Dury, talking about his first sexual encounter, in the rain, at Upminster Park. He quotes “I’ve heard that I’m the first raspberry sex symbol”. The audience burst out laughing, I looked around and couldn’t help wonder if they were they thinking “how about that for Sex and drugs and Rock'n'Roll.

A masterpiece of a script, that gives insight into the private life of Ian Dury, the unseen, back biting reality of his private life. Jeff researched well, reaching out to those who knew Dury well, talking to his friends. They described him as “a man who comes from adversity”, and capable of “construct and destroy”, “knowledgeable bloke, with “imagination in spades”. Also described as a private man who bought every Elvis record, and that of Gene Vincent. Some parts touching! They describe Dury’s disability, childhood polio, which left him crippled. Despite being disabled, he still kept his sense of humour, and one scene in particular sees Spider describe how Dury “had a parcel of a replacement iron leg delivered on tour. Spider, talks a lot of his times with Dury, sharing double bill in many scenes, it was great that both characters share equal time on stage, as they both spent so much of their time together. I was pleased to hear from Jeff Merrifield that the actual Fred “Spider” Rowe’s visited the opening show and commented to Josh Darcy, in role as Spider, “Don’t muck it up you runt”- with some letters changed about!

Throughout, you will be pleased to know that there are plenty of Ian Dury and The Blockheads songs. Jud Charlton blasts out through the mike, filling the room with great Dury classics, Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick, What a Waste, lots more epic songs of a punk rock era, with banter from classic songs from “New Boots and Panties" album! I highly recommend this production! It is a work created by a genius, Jeff Merrifield, celebrating the life of a genius, Ian Dury. The world will never forget, as his memory lives on!


ABFCAP: The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury starstarstarstar

This play lifts the lid on aspects of the life of Ian Dury whose songs, with their driving beat and clever lyrics, sound just as powerful as they did when they were first released more than two decades ago. It depicts in three scenes his fiery relationship with Spider Rowe, a one time criminal, who became friend, minder and tour manager.
The first scene is set in 1980 when Dury was at the height of his fame. Fond of getting drunk, he had an almost pathological weakness to violently insult friends and admirers. Spider Rowe is seeking an apology for the way he treated his girl friend, but none is forthcoming and their friendship collapses. It becomes apparent that Dury used his disability from contracting polio as a child as a defence mechanism.
The play moves on to 1990 when Spider visits him after the death of the drummer in Dury’s backing band, The Blockheads. They reminisce and plan future projects, but there is still a tension in their relationship. The final scene in 2000 shows Spider alone when he is informed of Dury’s death. He recounts his final years and the continued turbulence in his life.

This production succeeds on several levels. There is the revelation of the tortured life of Ian Dury but on a deeper level the relationship between the two men. Jud Charlton makes a convincing Ian Dury both in his acting role and singing performance of Dury’s best known hits. Josh Darcy as Spider Rowe is magnificent in a role equally as important. Writer and director Jeff Merrifield has done a remarkable job in realising such a fascinating production.

Talk107FM The Breakfast Show with Scott and Liz

Scott was most excited about a new show at the Fringe featuring the music of Ian Dury & The Blockheads. The show is called ABFCAP: The Life & Rhymes of Ian Dury and is daily at Edinburgh Zoo at 1:25pm. The show features many of Ian's songs and tells of his life between 1980 and 2000. The team spoke with Ian's former manager, bodyguard and friend Fred "Spider" Rowe. He likes the show very much and is intrigued by the character playing himself!

TALK107FM Daily Blog


We then went and found somewhere to shelter from the raging storm ("Record Downpour, flooding in Leith": The Scotsman) and I persuaded a rather tired Steve that we should go and see "ABFCAP: The life and times of Ian Dury". We YOMPED across town for quarter of an hour, me leading the way PROUD of my ability now to navigate... and found that I'd taken us to the wrong venue, and that the one we wanted was 15 minutes back in the other direction, next to where we'd been before. Ah. Another STOMP and we made it just in time. Happily the show was GREAT - really funny, really moving, really GOOD.



Theatre Review


I wish I could find something negative to say about this production: my critical faculties were numbed by Jeff Merrifield’s impeccable direction and the astounding performances of Jud Charlton as Ian Dury and Josh Darcy as Fred ‘Spider’ Rowe : 5 stars is not enough. 

Charlton’s recreation  is a stunning tour de force and although I didn’t know much about  Dury before seeing ABFCAP,  after the shortest hour and ten minutes I’ve ever spent in a Theatre I felt I knew the man intimately and had been touched by all the mixed emotions this man of flawed genius generated.

Charlton’s performance, both acting and singing, is an absolute masterpiece and really should not be missed, and, with the flawless performance of Josh Darcy, create a rock solid and one hundred percent truthful relationship: this is acting of the very highest order. Beneath all the ‘sex, drugs ‘n rock ’n roll ‘, and the personal conflicts between the two men spanning 20 years – depicted in a masterly script in which there is   not a fuck nor a cunt too many, and there are many! - a rich and profound love and respect between the two men emerges, underpinning this gem of theatrical biography.

This production must not come to an end – even a glorious one – in Edinburgh: it deserves the widest possible exposure.

Reviewed by RF 19.08.08

Playback Theatre - ABFCAP, the Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury, Zoo, 1.25pm.

SERIOUSLY, if you are in Edinburgh and have any love for Ian Dury, GO AND SEE THIS. astonishingly good two-hander, packed with swearing and the songs of the great man. Dude playing Dury is very good, at certain moments when he's singing he's damn near perfect. If you don't know what ABFCAP means, it's the initials to the first line of Plaistow Patricia, innit.




ABFCAP: The Life & Rhymes of Ian Dury

Author: Karen Douglas  

This is one of those little gems the Fringe is all about.  Told through anecdotes and reminiscences of Ian Dury and his long suffering reformed criminal “roadworker”, ie roadie/minder Fred ‘Spider’ Rowe, together and separately, this warts and all portrait of Dury reveals a tortured genius, damaged by the cruelty suffered in childrens’ homes and throughout his, often hospitalised, childhood, crippled with polio and nerves when dealing with the opposite sex.

Like Dury’s lyrics, the language throughout is colourful and uncompromising, with copious (although never gratuitous) occurrences of  F and C words. An ‘ego on a stick’ Dury became abusive and  bad tempered when drunk, which was frequently, leading Spider to devise an ingenius method of confining him to his hotel room and an equally devious attempt on Dury’s part to circumvent his ploy!

Jud Charlton is mesmerising as he becomes Dury, hurling himself around the stage in leg irons, sweating profusely, leering at and flirting with the crowd, this is an award winning performance, he commands the stage, displaying what Dury’s former, much loved partner, Denise called ‘the sharp edges breaking through Dury’s ever present (at least when sober!) humanity’. 

No less impressive is Josh Darcy as the gentle giant Spider, devoted to Dury and crushed by his refusal to apologise when he insults his (Spider’s) girlfriend, Karen.  The pain that the 10 year separation then causes the two men is palpable and the eventual reunion poignantly portrayed by both actors.  And the guest appearance of Janet Street Porter is a delight to behold.

Then there is the music!  It is like being in the room with Ian Dury, it takes all your time not to join in with all the old favourites and a few I did not recognise.  Hanging over the whole show is the inevitable ending of the death of Dury but, without giving anything away it is sensitively handled so that at the end of the show you are left, as you were with the great man himself, wishing you could see and hear him one more time.  A definite contender for an award this Fringe.



Published Date: 23 August 2008

AT ONE point during this evocative two-hander about punk legend Ian Dury, the granite-voiced singer is described as "an extraordinary ordinary person". That's as good an epitaph as any, and a fitting description of this show.

Not to say that it’s in any way pedestrian, but there's no attempt to incorporate any sense of magic realism or play with theatrical convention. It's just two blokes talking (and one occasionally singing), and the audience hang on every word they say.

The men in question are Dury himself, of course, and his long-time minder and fixer Fred "Spider" Rowe, an ex-lag and squaddie who's more than a bit tasty in a fight. Jud Charlton is excellent as Dury, boasting the appropriate middle-aged quiff and the unwieldy hop and scrape around the stage that the disabled singer's callipered leg – a result of a childhood bout of polio – gave him.

Dury, so the play has it, was the world's "first raspberry sex symbol".

Charlton also evokes the correct spirit of Dury the performer as he sings along to loud backing tapes of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and What a Waste. Josh Darcy, meanwhile, is more subdued as the reformed but still rough-edged Rowe, whose physical power is held in check as Dury gets drunk again and again, becoming his insufferable alter-ego 'Tom'.

Flitting between monologues and dialogue, Jeff Merrifield's play paints a convincing picture of a real brotherhood that's stretched tight by Dury's adherence to all the rock'n'roll clichés.

Yet his life story is also recounted here, and a picture emerges of a boy who grew up stuck in the gap between middle and working class, able-bodied and disabled, artist and artisan. The pair bash out anecdotes with boyish, foul-mouthed glee, which don't just tell us what happened but give us some sense of those involved – the time Dury turned down writing for Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Cats, for example, or his original formation of the Blockheads as "a song what I wrote what became a band".

There are stories, music, humanity and more within this fine production.

Until 25 August. Today 1:25pm