Touring – reviewed at the British Library, London
Guest reviewer: Chris Pickett
Two men on a nearly empty stage, reading aloud scripts from a sitcom first screened over 50 years ago, might not sound like the makings of a great night out. But for fans of the beloved television show, Dad’s Army Radio Show is a genuine treat.
Most will be familiar with the television series what with the huge popularity of its original 1968-1977 run, and the ubiquity of its repeat airings ever since. However, not so many will know of the radio adaptations recorded by the original cast. It is from these that David Benson and Jack Lane’s two-man show draw inspiration.
The result is a fitting tribute to a comedy classic. As soon as Benson and Lane start talking, there is the surreal sensation of hearing the voices of such well-known characters emanating from the lips of people who look nothing like them. It is both eerie and slightly magical, like mediums conjuring the voices of long lost friends.
As the actors deliver the first line for each character a wave of emotion sweeps over the audience. It is a mixture of awe at the actors’ skill of mimicry and the sheer joy of having beloved characters brought back to life.
Benson and Lane are great actors and master imitators. They have divided up the characters between them and switch between each with remarkable vocal dexterity. Most notably, Benson plays Sergeant Wilson and Lane plays Captain Mainwaring. They have not only the accents down to a T, but also capture the mannerisms and intonations perfectly. Close your eyes and you can visualise John Le Mesurier and Arthur Lowe speaking every word.
While this is obviously a two-man show, Benson and Lane readily acknowledge the two unseen stars – David Croft and Jimmy Perry, the writers of the original series who created such memorable characters and dialogue to work with.
At the end of the show, Benson tells the audience that he believes Dad’s Army’s success was down to the fact that it was a show everyone in the family could enjoy together. Seeing the number of inter-generational groups in attendance, it is easy to agree.
The original series tapped into a nostalgia for the Second World War for those who had lived through it, and those who grew up in its aftermath. This production adds another layer – the 1940’s nostalgia is still there, but so too is a more personal nostalgia for times gathered around the television with family, sharing the experiences of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard.
Fresh and edgy it is not, and if you do not like the television series, this is unlikely to convert you. But for those who love the original, this will be an immensely enjoyable stroll down memory lane. It’s every bit as quaint as Godfrey’s sister’s cucumber sandwiches, and every bit as cosy and comfortable as one of Pike’s scarves.
Dad’s Army Radio Show tours the UK through June.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.