The Likely Lads

Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais
Gala Theatre, Durham

Production photo

Twice within a few weeks NE theatregoers have had the chance to see a much-loved TV sitcom brought to the stage: Dad's Army at the Theatre Royal and now The Likely Lads at the Gala.

In Dad's Army the producers attempted to reproduce the characters as closely as possible, both in terms of looks and mannerisms. Indeed, a fellow critic commented that he felt the real star of the show was the casting director! He had a point. Simon Stallworthy's production of The Likely Lads doesn't go along this route. Indeed, I have to say that I found David Nellist's Bob far more convincing than Rodney Bewes' portrayal of the character - for a start, he has the accent right, something Bewes never managed! - but he does retain Bob's essential innocence. As his wife Thelma, Susie Burton is much more glamorous than Brigit Forsyth and is altogether a softer character but this is perhaps as much due to the exigencies of the plot as it is to Burton's playing, for her attitude towards Terry has to change considerably (an almost 180 degree turn) during the course of the first act.

In Scott Frazer's portrayal of Terry, I missed the sense of danger - this was not the Terry Collier whom everyone, from the infant school teacher to Thelma's parents to his own sister, warned against. He was too nice. But of course this could come from the fact that society has moved on since 1973 and our perceptions of people have changed: Jack the Lad of '73 was, in fact, much less dangerous than his 2008 equivalent.

The three main characters are ably supported by Donald McBride, Grace Stilgrove and Sarah Lawton, who between them play nine parts. McBride, a stalwart of the NE theatre scene since the seventies, gave his usual impeccable performance in four of those parts: he is one of the few actors I know who can get a laugh just by walking across the stage, as he does here at one point.

Inevitably, given the TV origins of the piece, the structure is very episodic, with frequent changes of scene. Stallworthy uses these breaks to remind us of the period, with music and TV adverts of the time as a soundtrack while the stage is darkened for a truck to move back and forth and backdrops to fly in and out, or for stage crew to move blocks which serve as anything from Thelma's librarian's desk to seats in a pub. This brought many smiles of recognition from members of the audiernce of a certain age (your reviewer included) - who can forget that wonderfully silly Smash advert? - but it did slow things down and interrupt the flow. This stop/start was exacerbated, towards the end of the first act, immediately after Bob and Thelma's wedding, by a series of projected wedding photos on an otherwise dark stage. The audience took this as the end of the act and applauded, but it wasn't: a new scene followed, but our attention had been disrupted and it took a while to get back into the play. And then the act finished.

Although each individual scene maintained the right pace, these interruptions meant that the overall pace was slowed so we weren't swept along by the developing story as we should have been.

That aside, however, it is an enjoyable evening's theatre, although it will probably appeal more to those who remember the original than to those who don't know it.

Running until Saturday 21st June

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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