Dad's Army: The Lost Episodes
Jimmy Perry and David Croft
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
Reviewing Dad's Army is a bit like reviewing the National Anthem or Tower Bridge. They are all national institutions and, although Dad's Army is not the longest running sitcom (that distinction goes to Last of the Summer Wine, I suspect), it is probably the most enduringly popular. The audience last night was not the usual Theatre Royal audience but the house was still packed and, although some of them were almost certainly Leslie Grantham fans dying to see Dirty Den in the flesh, the vast majority (and what a mixture of ages there was!) were Dad's Army fans, as was made abundantly clear when, as the lights went down and the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon marched onstage, the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
Four "lost" (because no recordings remain) episodes are performed: A Stripe for Frazer, Loneliness of the Long-Distance Walker, Room at the Bottom and The Deadly Attachment. All of the regulars are there, of course: Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Corporal Jones, platoon members Frazer, Godfrey and Pike, as well as the ARP Warden Hodges and the Verger, along with a mixed bag of other platoon members, regular army officers and NCOs, the crew of a U-Boat and two women (played by the same man). No Vicar, though.
What the audience wants is accurate reproduction of the original, particularly of the original characters, and that is what they get. I have to say that I thought Brian Jackson looked too young for Godfrey but, like the rest, he had the voice and mannerisms perfectly. And isn't it amazing what the imagination combined with memory will do? In no time at all we forgot that we weren't seeing Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Ian Lavender et al: the performances were such that we were seeing them, if only in our minds' eyes - a tribute to the careful reproduction of the TV series and the actors' performances.
How strange and very theatrical it is, watching actors playing well-known actors playing equally well-known characters!
It's great fun: well-loved characters, familiar catchphrases (the first "Stupid boy!" got a great laugh and applause), familiar situations (and some familiar jokes: "Don't tell him your name, Pike" made its appearance) and some new ones. One which particularly tickled my fancy was when the visiting drill sergeant bellowed at Cpl Jones, "Does Snowwhite know you'll be late tonight?"
It is sometimes hard for a critic to go to the theatre and suspend the critical approach, to stop analysing and just sit back and enjoy. It helps that I've been a fan of Dad's Army since 1968 (yes, 1968 - I couldn't believe it either!) and this sticks so close to the spirit as well as the actuality of the original that for me it became a good night out, full of laughter and nostalgia.
"Dad's Army" is at Malvern Theatres from 2nd to 7th June
Reviewer: Peter Lathan