Writers: Jimmy Perry and David Croft
One of the most revered of all the BBC classic comedy shows across radio and television is back in another revival. Dad’s Army holds a special fascination for the Brits. And recognisable from the first bar of its theme tune, catchphrases that have been woven into the cultural fabric of the whole country, and a masterclass in comedic creation, it’s no wonder it’s so well thought of.
David Benson and Jack Lane have taken up the challenge of staging three classic episodes as radio productions in front of a live audience. They’re accompanied by contemporary sound effects, great uniforms, and a small number of gently evocative props. Those fortunate enough to see it live get all three, those on a live stream (where we saw it) were treated to just two – When You’ve Got To Go, and Never Too Old.
The first episode – When You’ve Got To Go – has Private Pike being called up for his physical, with membership of the RAF the next step. An episode from season eight of the show, we’re already familiar with the characters and life in Walmington-on-Sea. It’s our introduction, however, to Lane and Benson stretching their comedic and theatrical muscles to bring us into the world of the Home Guard.
Across both episodes, the two seek to deliver impressions of the classic cast, rather than try and reinvent one of the most deeply recognised works of comedy in modern times – a very understandable decision. Thank God they are clearly highly capable, ranging ably and enjoyably through Captain Mainwaring (Lane), Sergeant Wilson (Benson), Pike (Lane), Corporal Jones (Lane) and 20+ other characters and voices.
Never Too Old, the final episode of the show, sees Corporal Jones getting engaged to a Mrs. Fox. The episode is a reminder that the crucial moments of the whole run were not story driven; instead, they were born of the relationships between these characters that the actors and writers created. In Never Too Old we see the men leaping from wedding to a live call-up and threat of invasion but, on an evening where they might finally see real action, the focus is on camaraderie and on Jones and his new wife.
The simplicity of the presentation of these pieces lets the writing shine. The two actors are engaging performers, even when standing still behind a mic, but it’s the words that are the stars. Objectively, we might argue a Dad’s Army story is a little lacklustre (there are certainly those who cannot see the charm in the show), but with these scripts the journey, rather than a big narrative payoff, is the point and it’s this quality that creates the warm recollections and fondness the fans cherish. This production celebrates that as well as the original cast of performers. This may, actually, make it one more for the confirmed aficionado than a newcomer.
It all finishes with a toast to the Home Guard. As gentle and generous an ending as we could ever want.
Reviewed on 30 July 2021, and now tours