Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer and Director: Guy Unsworth

In the 1970s, the timing was right to spawn great British TV sitcoms: there were only three TV channels and an essentially captive audience. While some are perhaps best forgotten, others, for example, Dad’s Army and Porridge, are still repeated and enjoyed today. Running from 1973 to 1978, one of the best-loved was Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, the story of the well-meaning and childlike Frank Spencer and his long-suffering wife, Betty. It provided rich material for impressionists with a wealth of catchphrases and memorable stunts. It also catapulted Michael Crawford into the public eye for his portrayal of Frank.

And now we have this stage adaptation, written and directed by Guy Unsworth in collaboration with the original writer, Raymond Allen, and based around the storyline where a newly-pregnant Betty is trying to give Frank the good news. The actual story, involving a priest, Betty’s mother and her new bank manager beau, men from the BBC and a policeman is, of course, quite ridiculous with a resolution that is quite risible, but along the way we see plenty of fast-moving farce and physical comedy as the evening progresses. So expect plenty of mistaken identity, opening and closing of doors – often with hapless cast members unceremoniously stuffed through them – and a gradually disintegrating house as the whole descends into chaos.

Most people familiar with the original are likely to nod and smile knowingly if told that Frank is to be played by Joe Pasquale in this adaptation. Pasquale’s brand of humour and stage persona fit Frank like a glove, with supremely well-timed dialogue and well-choreographed physical comedy.  Frank’s tendency to speak in malapropisms and to lapse into long detailed explanations that end up as tongue twisters helps keep the audience laughing, supported, of course, by numerous pratfalls. And Pasquale is superb in the role, always the centre of attention, rarely offstage and never missing a beat. However, the physical comedy is so strong that the essential childlike innocence of Frank doesn’t come through strongly enough. In fact, there is a danger of the whole morphing into the Joe Pasquale show as the other characters, even Betty, are little more than foils for the comedy moments that admittedly come thick and fast.

Sarah Earnshaw brings us Betty desperately trying to support Frank in his endeavours. Earnshaw, like the rest of the ensemble, is talented in physical comedy. However, the show is so fast-moving with set pieces that develop and escalate hot on each others’ heels that the connection between Frank and Betty isn’t really established and so one ends up asking why Betty puts up with Frank’s hare-brained schemes. Susie Blake is perfectly on point as Betty’s mother, Mrs Fisher, torn between her love for Betty (and disappointment in her choice of husband); she never puts a foot wrong. And when Frank’s plea to her new beau, Mr Worthington (Moray Treadwell), for financial assistance with his magic act goes horribly wrong, Blake shows off her physical comedy credentials as Mrs Fisher becomes increasingly drunk.

Fine support is on offer from the ensemble. As well as the puffed-up Worthington, Treadwell also brings us the BBC producer, Luscombe, who tries valiantly to audition Frank for Stars of Tomorrow, and a rather stereotypical Irish priest is brought to life by James Paterson.

Simon Higlett’s set perfectly evokes the 1970s with its décor and furnishings: it also shows the quality of Frank’s DIY with bookcases with crazy angles and furniture that falls apart when moved. Unsworth’s direction ensures the whole never pauses for breath as we are swept along with the narrative so that, as an uncomplicated farce, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is a triumph; and for that reason, the superficiality of the characterisation and relationships won’t matter for many who seek a good laugh on a night out.

Runs Until 23 July 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Uncomplicated laughs

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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