ON your Marx, get set, go, as Off The Rock Productions present the world premiere of Not So Funny Now, Mike Hickman's Groucho-inspired drama, from April 10 to 13 at The Basement, City Screen, York.

Billed as a Hollywood scandal in black and white and every shade of grey, Hickman's play draws on one of Groucho Marx's multitude of quips: "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself."

The focus falls not on the principal Marx Brother,however, but on Erin Fleming, secretary and so much more besides to the New York City-born comedian and film star. Arriving at a dressing room somewhere in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills, she prepares for the evening performance, waiting too for the woman who said she could help her with a decision she has to make. A decision she, somehow, can't quite remember.

Perhaps it has something to do with the press clippings on the dresser? Or the scandal books copiously marked up with bookmarks and notes? If only Erin could remember. If only she could concentrate, what with the smell in there: not a cigar, nor a cigarette, but nevertheless a very familiar aroma, reminding her of so very much, taking her back.

As the dressing room becomes a 1950s' quiz show, complete with duck and secret word, and the 1950s' quiz show becomes a psychological test with an outcome wilder than any of the Marx Brothers' routines, Erin is visited by Ruth, who, it seems, really does want to help with her decision, and is her only hope if she is ever to escape this place.

York Press:

Not So Funny Now writer/director Mike Hickman with the man "with the moustache and the glasses"

"Behind the moustache and the glasses, there was the man; behind the man, there were the wives, Ruth, Kay and Eden, and after the wives came Erin," says Mike Hickman, introducing his play. "It has been said that everything you have ever heard about Erin Fleming is probably true. Carnegie Hall, the revival, the screaming fans: she had a hand in all of it.

"She stood by the side of the comedy legend on the Dick Cavett Show; she took the Margaret Dumont part in Hello, I Must Be Going, and she secured that TV spectacular contract, helping herself to 50 per cent of the trademark in the process, and getting those papers signed, all those very many papers, before it was too late.

"There is talk of syringes in the storm drain, a gun in the Sheriff’s office, mass sackings and her plan to become his…his…surely not? So very much has been written, and not only by those who were there at the time. What is anyone supposed to make of it? Including Erin herself. Perhaps Ruth [Johnson] will be able to tell her."

Hickman's play considers the effects of fame on those who stay behind the limelight and those accused of seeking the reflected limelight for themselves at any cost.

"I've always been interested in comedy; not just the Marx Brothers, but Chaplin, Keaton, Hancock, Cleese and more," he says. "One of the appeals of writing this play was to have a legendary comedian as part of the story, but it is not his story; this is the story of Erin Fleming.

York Press:

Clancy McMullan as Ruth in Not So Funny Now. Picture: Andy Argyle

"Mrs Merton once asked Debbie McGee what had attracted her to the millionaire Paul Daniels. The 'joke' of the young female performer who attaches herself to the elderly star is as old as the Hollywood Hills, but what if you are on the receiving end of that 'joke'? And what happens afterwards, when it is all over, and you are left with all the many, many words that have been written about you, so many of them unkind?

"Who do you believe? Do any of us really want to believe the best in ourselves? Erin Fleming has so many reasons not to believe the best in herself. Her story is a fascinating one, a disturbing one, a revealing one, in terms of what it tells us about our fascination for celebrity and how little it ultimately rewards even the most supposedly successful of us."

Victoria Delaney, as Erin Fleming, and Clancy McMullan, as Ruth Johnson, are joined in writer/director Hickman's cast by Max Palmer's Trickster A and Sonia Di Lorenzo's Trickster B.

The York company's production team includes assistant director Alison Young; sound designer Alexander King; set designer Paul Mason; costume designer Carly Brown; stage manager Ann Crossley; lighting designer Matt Pattison; administrator Keeley Schlesinger and producer Matthew Wignall. Promotional trailers have been put together by Blue Tomato Studio.

Tickets for the four 7.30pm performances are on sale at £10, concessions £8, at thebasementyork.co.uk/not-so-funny-now and on 0871 902 5726.