Richard Carpenter is, for those that remember him at all, a somewhat complicated character. The most positive thing said about him is usually ‘brother of…’, not helped by his uneasy and tense relationship with the media, coupled with the undeniable talent of his more famous sibling. In this show, Richard finally gets the chance to voice his frustrations that hard work and dedication can too often be eclipsed by a beautiful voice. After all, who’s really keeping things together around here?
Richard is presented as a noble character who’s painfully aware that he may appear petulant. Here, he’s given the chance to be a Superstar
Matthew Floyd Jones pitches his version of Richard perfectly; dressed in Ken doll style in high waisted slacks and fixing us with a glassy stare, that is only slightly less disturbing than the fixed smile that looks like the expression of a fundamentalist Christian, being presented with proof of an empty universe. He’s quite literally a one man band, and it’s never clear if that’s because of his talent for many instruments, or more about a control freak quality in his approach.
There’s a gag early on that the real Richard (and his lawyers) may not approve of the hour, and all the songs that fans may be expecting are not in fact present and correct, but repurposed in a way that will delight anyone who has followed his Frisky And Mannish gigs. And while the words may not be the same as before, it doesn’t stop people who are obviously fans of The Carpenters sha-la-la-ing along to the familiar beats. In addition, Jones has fun replicating Richard’s curious habit of misappropriating cultural trends, like mixing sombre, achingly regretful lyrics with a cheerful calypso beat.
It’s this that is one of the major strengths of the hour. As Jones proved in his previous guise as Mannish, it’s impossible to successfully rip the piss out of something so viciously for a comedy hour, unless you actually fully, unashamedly love it. And there’s such affection, such admiration for Richard nestled within the acid swipes (‘Grade A piano’) that demands you see Richard in a new light. And while he doesn’t shy away from the grotesque, carnival freak show elements that some audience members may have been expecting, Matthew Floyd Jones gives us – and Richard Carpenter – precisely what is deserved: dignity and humanity.
It’s a complicated argument – wanting a larger share of the praise without wishing to steal it from anyone else – and Richard is presented as a noble character who’s painfully aware that he may appear petulant. Here, he’s given the chance to be a Superstar. This is, in every sense of the phrase, a Richard Carpenter Tribute Night.