Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em – Richmond Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer and Director: Guy Unsworth

Fans of the 1970s sit-com Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em will be delighted with this full-length comedy, written and directed by Guy Unsworth. Nothing much has changed. Frank Spencer remains one of life’s great innocents, hopelessly accident prone and still married to devoted Betty. Indeed the action of this show predates the arrival of baby Jessica. The comic misunderstandings here concern Frank’s inability to hear the news that Bettry is pregnant as his head is full of other news: the BBC wants to film his novelty magic show.

All the hallmarks of the original series are here. The set looks precarious and will indeed prove to be so, thanks to clever design by Simon Higlett. There are lots of the usual comic stunts involving collapsing doors and windows which just manage to miss the hapless Frank. We hear the evergreen catchphrase ‘Oo Betty,’ and there are plenty of his malapropisms – he threatens, for instance, to carry out a ‘Heinekin manoeuvre’ on the local priest. His mother-in-law plays a key role and we also get a bank manager, a BBC camera man and a rather dishy police officer.

The first half involves the elaborate setting up of a daftly complicated plot with much farce along the way. By the interval you might be wondering, if you never saw the original TV show, why it was so successful. The second half, however, picks up pace and by the end there are some geniuinely funny set pieces involving all the characters. The appearance of three identically beret-and-fairisle-tank-top-clad Franks is hilarious, as is his stunt involving collapsing banisters. The use of 70’s pop songs here brings a new energy to the whole show that seemed lacking in the first half.

The part of Frank Spencer was famously played by a young Michael Crawford, and Raymond Allen, writer and creator of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, acknowledges it was Crawford who made the show such a success. His brilliant comic acting and his effortless ability to convey youthful wide-eyed innocence brought geniuine sweetness to the character. Joe Pasquale, as Frank in the current production, is a good mimic, but until the finale when he gets a chance to show off his physical acting skills, something of the character’s loveability gets lost. The fact that, yet again, Frank has lost his job feels distressing rather than funny as Pasquale’s Frank is evidently a middle-aged man, and his line about being medically diagnosed as a failure is unintentionally sad.

Moray Treadwell brings warmth and energy to bank manager Mr Luscombe and the be-wigged TV producer Mr Worthington. Susie Blake has fun getting increasingly sozzled on the departed Mrs Spencer’s prune wine. It’s a skilfully produced show, but strictly one for Frank Spencer fans.

Runs until 4 June 2022, then continues to tour

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