Written and Directed by Guy Unsworth
Based on the original TV series by Raymond Allen
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Despite the strange fact that it doesn’t get repeated very often, the original TV sit-com Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em remains as iconic as ever. Certainly, Frank Spencer as immortalised by Michael Crawford was probably the most imitated character in the UK during the 1970s, 80s and into the 90s and is still instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with him. And yet there were only 22 episodes made between 1973 and 1978. But now (following a short return for a Sport Relief sketch in 2016) Frank is back and he’s thankfully as accident-prone as ever.
This stage version of the show is both exactly what you would expect of such an adaption while also being unexpectedly different from your preconceptions. It’s a fine balance that works brilliantly: completely evoking the feel of the show and characters while avoiding slavish imitation. Unlike other similar TV-to-stage sitcoms, this isn’t simply a few episode scripts stitched together: this is a brand new script that has a coherent ‘feature-length’ plot. We witness Betty’s attempts to tell Frank that she is pregnant, Frank’s misplaced ambition of being a magician and the resulting chaos that befalls our hopeless hero and the unfortunate people who find themselves in his company. The whole thing plays mostly as a farce with many misunderstandings, hiding in cupboards, pratfalls, and Frank running around with no trousers on, but there is also some clever wordplay and some extremely impressive practical effects that bring Franks dodgy DIY attempts to life. It’s fast, it’s slick, it’s silly and for the most part it’s absolutely hilarious.
Joe Pasquale is frankly superb. From the moment he enters he makes the character of Frank Spencer his own, his natural charm ensuring that his Frank (like Crawford’s) is sympathetic, not annoying or frustrating. He retains touches of Crawford’s simpering physicality while avoiding a vocal impersonation: Pasquale’s own trademarked voice works extremely well for the character. For such a much loved and well-remembered character this was a big risk but one that pays off immediately and brilliantly – completely down to the combination of Pasquale’s brilliant performance and Guy Unsworth’s script and tight direction.
Hardly ever off stage, this is Pasquale’s show and he is clearly having an absolute ball, but fortunately, the rest of the cast are strong enough to shine alongside him. Sarah Earnshaw probably has the toughest role playing Betty. Essentially the straight man to all of the craziness, Earnshaw gives Betty a little more bite than we are used to while remaining sympathetic and believable. Susie Blake plays the snooty mother-in-law to perfection and David Shaw-Parker is a comically confused priest, while Moray Treadwell and Chris Kiely bring the rest of the characters to life.
Simon Higlett’s kitsch 70s set is a star in its own right. Similar to the scenery and props in The Play That Goes Wrong, Frank and Betty’s house takes some punishment. Whether it’s a flickering light, a broken doorbell, an exploding kitchen or a fragile bannister, the perfect design of these practical effects coupled with the cast’s handling of them offer some of the biggest laughs of the evening.
While this is a brilliant evening’s entertainment, a small amount of the jokes fall rather flat which is very noticeable considering most of the script is extremely funny. However for such a fast-paced, gag-packed show this is entirely forgivable and on the strength of this production, this reviewer would welcome Frank Spencer back to our TV screens with Pasquale ably carrying the trench coat and beret into the 21st Century.
Whether you are familiar with the original TV series or not, this is pure comedy gold that should not be missed.
Runs until 7th July 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander