Writer: Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles after Jimmy Perry and David Croft
Director: Owen Lewis
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
When Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles adapted Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s TV show Dad’s Army for BBC radio they shifted the emphasis from visual to verbal and descriptive humour. Their version of the classic scripts is, therefore, perfect for a theatrical presentation with few props and a cast of just two actors enacting over two dozen roles.
Some years ago, enterprising producers staged re-enactments of classic radio shows like Round the Horne in a way that gave the illusion of watching the actual shows broadcast. The stage was set as if for the radio station, sound effects created in front of the audience and the cast performed as the original actors playing their radio characters.
Despite the title Dad’s Army Radio Show does not take this approach. Owen Lewis directs a semi-staged production that is as close to mimicry/stand up as to a theatrical presentation. The atmosphere of a radio station is missing; an ‘on air’ sign, that comprises the entire set, is the only visual suggestion we are watching a ‘radio’ version of the scripts.
Rather than create the sound effects live on stage recorded versions by Tom Lishman are used. David Benson and Jack Lane arrive dressed in army uniforms and cheerfully break the ‘fourth wall’ leading the audience in a sing-along to the theme song of the show.
Benson and Lane do not limit themselves to vocal characterisation employing also physical gestures and reactions. Corporal Jones has pursed facial features, Sergeant Wilson makes vague arm gestures and Private Walker is permanently smoking an invisible fag. While existing fans might be the target audience for the show, the vivid characterisation ensures anyone watching it for the first time has no difficulty identifying the various characters.
The ‘two man army’ approach captures the essence of Dad’s Army drawing humour from the concept of plucky underdogs making do with limited resources and standing up to overwhelming aggression. The scripts upon which the show is based combine a particular brand of English humour – poking fun at pomposity whilst also maintaining a degree of affection for the targets of the jokes- with hints of pathos and respect for underdogs trying to do their best even when obviously unqualified. The final script acts as a ‘greatest hits’ with pretty much every famous catchphrase from the show cropping up at some point.
Yet the main success of the evening has to be the uncannily accurate vocal mimicry by Benson and Lane not only catching the intonation of the voices but also the relationship between the characters. Captain Mainwaring and his squad are very much the underdogs and there is the sense they are aware of their limited abilities but determined to do their best and somehow preserve their dignity against all the odds.
Dad’s Army Radio Show is an affectionate tribute to a classic comedy and, as the UK is currently a savagely divided nation, serves as timely reminder of a period when everyone pulled together.
Reviewed on 20 January 2019