Writer: Michael Aitkens
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Paul Couch
There’s an inherent danger in adapting a long-running television programme for the stage: the small-screen characters, often portrayed by actors who loom large in the cultural psyche, become so imprinted on our minds that their stage counterparts often disappoint. ‘Allo ‘Allo, Dad’s Army, Heartbeat, Last of the Summer Wine, and even Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies have all seen stage adaptations with varying degrees of success.
In the case of Michael Aitkens’ adaptation of Waiting For God, those expecting to see imitations of Stephanie Cole and Graham Crowden’s Diana Trent and Tom Ballard will be disappointed. The protagonists have been given fresh depth by Nichola McAuliffe and Jeffrey Holland (an Eleventh Hour replacement for Roy Hudd) and the result is a mildly entertaining, if predictable, 90 minutes.
McAuliffe’s Diana is spikier and even more acerbic, less physically imposing than Cole’s and, dare one suggest it, rather more three-dimensional. As Tom Ballard, Holland is less blustering and more debonaire, creating more potential for conflict (and therefore emotional connection) to develop between the two.
The supporting roles, those of slimy retirement home manager Harvey Baines (Samuel Collings), Jane Edwards (Emily Pithon), Geoffrey Ballard (David Benson) and Sarah Chase (Joanna Bending) have less potential to stray from their TV counterparts and therefore remain caricatures, resorting to prat-falls and flamboyant gestures.
However, the biggest issue with Waiting for God is Aitkens’ lacklustre storyline. This is no standalone episode, but rather an amalgam of the entire five series crammed into one helping. The result is almost a clipshow of what’s gone before – from Diana and Tom’s first meeting at the Bayview Retirement Home to their non-wedding at the end of series five. The caustic banter is still there, and we even find some unexpected pathos, but it serves only to bridge odd vignettes of storylines already written and filmed in the ‘90s. There is potential to explore the characters far beyond what we already know about them but Aitkens stays firmly in his comfort zone.
Jonathan Fensom’s touring set is minimal, just two walls either side of the stage and scenes are played out between them, regardless of extraneous furniture. Occasionally, it’s difficult to un-see patio detritus while we’re, for example, in a hospital waiting room, but this is unimportant in the grand scheme of where this production slips.
McAuliffe and Holland are consummate veteran actors and Aitken can clearly write razor-sharp dialogue. It’s just a shame these qualities are being squandered in such an unimaginative re-hash.
Runs until 13 May 2017 then tour continues | Image: Geraint Lewis