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TV review: Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled; Playhouse Presents… Timeless

Comedians Kevin Eldon, Bill Bailey, Alan Davies, Craig Campbell and Isy Suttie in Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled on Dave. Photo: UKTV/Des Willie

Television formats don’t come much simpler, or cheaper, than Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled. Hosted by the stand-up and Jonathan Creek star, it is essentially a chat show/panel game hybrid in which a group of comics sit around a table, surrounded by a studio audience, and exchange anecdotes.

At the end of an hour, the group decides upon a title that best encapsulates their collective ramblings. The episode I watched was given the extremely catchy monicker Until You’re Dead or I’m Married, a phrase that surfaced during a conversation about breastfeeding an eight year-old.

Davies assures the audience that – his intro notwithstanding – the proceedings are all unscripted, and I’m prepared to believe him. There is a spontaneity about the exchanges that can’t be fabricated, particularly when a speaker has his punchline trodden on or anticipated by a fellow guest. In those moments you can almost hear the noses being put out of joint.

But unscripted doesn’t mean that the anecdotes aren’t highly polished, the conversational ground hasn’t been prepared in advance or the near-seamless repartee hasn’t had some help from an editor.

The bottom line is that the format works, even if an hour’s running time does stretch it to its limits. The guests are well chosen, the atmosphere is relaxed and the anecdotes are very, very funny.

Raconteur highlights of the episode I watched included Isy Suttie making a two-metre tall papier mache penguin to try to salvage a relationship, Bill Bailey smuggling a feather into New Zealand, Kevin Eldon’s time as an Alton Towers pirate and Craig Campbell’s arrest for apprehending a New York mugger.

Disappointingly, host Davies didn’t recall the widely reported time he allegedly bit the ear of a homeless man who had the temerity to call him Jonathan Creek, but he’s probably saving that for the series finale.

Playhouse Presents…, Sky Arts’ excellent series of half-hour, stand-alone dramas, came to the end of its run with Tim Firth’s Timeless, a poignant tale of love and loss in times of war. It also gave a TV acting debut to supermodel Cara Delevingne, and the critical consensus is that she acquitted herself quite well. The fact that the role would have been better served by any number of professional actors doesn’t seem to merit a mention.

Delevingne played Chloe, a young woman living with her great-grandmother Alice (the wonderful Sylvia Syms). Chloe’s boyfriend is serving in Afghanistan, so when a grim-faced army official appears at the door, Chloe assumes the worst and passes out.

But in a very clever twist, it transpires that the news the officer brings doesn’t concern Chloe’s current beloved, but Alice’s former one. Declared missing in action over Iceland in 1945, the body of Alice’s Royal Air Force boyfriend has been recovered from a glacier in which it has been preserved, perfectly intact, for 69 years.

The play follows Chloe and Alice as they travel to Reykjavik to pay their respects, put the past to rest and try to get the hotel cable channel to stop showing porn. Did I mention that Timeless was also rather playful and amusing?

Alan Davies: As Yet Untitled, Dave, Monday, June 16 to Friday, June 20, 10pm
Playhouse Presents… Timeless, Sky Arts 1, Thursday, June 19, 9pm

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