People’s Theatre, Newcastle.
The People’s respectful recreation of this classic BBC sit-com gets it right on pretty much every level.
From the first moment there’s a palpable buzz of anticipation from the audience, as an air-raid siren reverberates around the theatre, Captain Mainwaring and his men march through the auditorium, and the unmistakable voice of Bud Flanagan sings ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?’ We know exactly what we are going to get, and the talented cast deliver it with ease.
There are a number of these TV adaptations doing the rounds in theatres up and down the country; Hi-de-Hi, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Porridge, even Fawlty Towers. They are guaranteed to put bums on seats (an important consideration for theatres in the current climate), and producers are bound to be mindful of the fact that most of the audience will come wanting to see a virtual copy of the TV episodes they know and love so well. Some fantastic performances by the cast here recreate perfectly the nuances of Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn et al. In particular, Steve Robertson as Mainwaring and Roger Liddle as Sergeant Wilson were uncannily like their TV counterparts, and Tony Childs played a wonderfully sweet, bumbling Private Godfrey.
The set, too, was expertly recreated by Derek Nellist and his crew. The detail was spot-on, and it really felt like we could have been at a recording of the actual TV show. Scenes that took place away from the Walmington-on-Sea church hall were performed simply at the front of the stage. (A superb lighting design by Tom Saunders and Dave Bailey helped create a wonderfully atmospheric train station scene.)
Some scene changes took a little too long (although I suspect it was the costume changes that took the time), which were covered by a live singer and musicians performing classic wartime songs at the side of the stage. It was a nice touch, but they were too long and the performer was no Vera Lynn, which made these interjections a bit tiresome towards the end.
However, it was Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s classic scripts that we were there to see, and in that sense we weren’t disappointed. They were all there – the German U-Boat captain making his list (“Don’t tell him Pike!”), the grenade down Corporal Jones’s trousers, the catchphrases (“Stupid boy!” “Don’t panic!” “Doomed!”) – and the audience loved it all. The whole cast got their performances spot on, mastering the delivery of such well-known lines, as well as the physical comedy (again, great work from Robertson as Mainwaring).
This was a classy and accomplished production. If you missed it I can only say one thing: Stupid boy!
(originally posted 15 July 2012)