‘An exercise in fan service’: ONLY FOOLS & HORSES THE MUSICAL – West End

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools & Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it has never been a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools & Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.

And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’, I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with in-jokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre).

Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan’s book is an exercise in fan service, stitching together many of the iconic comic sequences from the 20-odd years of the show and dressing them up with an origin story kind of plot. The people around me loved it. And it was a heartening sight to see the Theatre Royal Haymarket full of people who wouldn’t necessarily be booking to come to a musical (the last one the guys next to me had seen was Starlight Express!).

Sadly though, this is no great shakes at all as a new musical. For one, the score is peppered with 80s jukebox hits, relying on the cheery warmth of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ to take us into the interval really feels like a cheat. And of the new songs, few stand out at all even with strong performances from the likes of Dianne Pilkington’s Raquel.

And whether you get the in-jokes or not, there’s no mistaking the humour’s decided reliance on a very dated mode of comedy, situating us thoroughly in the 80s. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it just feels lazy, not allowing for any sophistication to creep in, to wit the fever dream which mocks what Peckham has become today (seriously, all jokes about coffee shops need to stop now).

Sometimes a show just isn’t for you and this was definitely one of those occasions for me. Had I that emotional connection with Only Fools and Horses, I might well have been more inclined to forgive this musical’s shortcomings. As I don’t – what a plonker – they ended up standing out more in Caroline Jay Ranger’s production here.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Only Fools and Horses The Musical is booking at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 31st August
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Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on FacebookIan Foster on RssIan Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."

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