Touring – reviewed at Curve Leicester
Apparently, this stage adaptation of Raymond Allen’s 1970s’ classic sitcom was conceived when writer/director Guy Unsworth was directing Joe Pasquale in Monty Python’s Spamalot in London. It was a hot summer’s day, the story goes, and Pasquale’s unsuccessful attempts to fix a fan gave Unsworth a lightbulb moment of casting Pasquale as hapless Frank Spencer and making him fall down a set of stairs seven shows a week.
If only Unsworth missed a train that day and couldn’t make it to that sweltering matinee of Spamalot. If only the dressing rooms weren’t in the basement at the Playhouse and not so stuffy. If only the Playhouse’s management invested in a better fan to cool the company down. If only Unsworth was directing Stewart Lee in a play and he ended up playing the role immortalised by Michael Crawford. Any number of slight changes to that day and this production of Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em might not have graced the stage and where oh where would British theatre be then?
It seems churlish to be this po-faced about the production even if I am cynical in the endeavour of adapting old sitcoms rather than creating new comedies that appeal to family audiences. Although it’s certainly not without criticism, Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em has a relentless giddy charm.
Born in 1992, I had an avid interest in comedy from a young age, including watching repeats of Some Mothers, and going to see Pasquale perform live. Although my tastes might have since altered, this is an odd nostalgia trip to see the mash-up of the two.
Unsworth has taken Allen’s scripts and amalgamated some memorable moments from throughout the series as well as focusing on the episode(s) where Betty tries to tell Frank he’s going to be a dad and the one where the BBC films his DIY achievements for a new TV show. Add to that Betty’s mother (played very well by Susie Blake) who has become alcoholic and desperate for a man, a vicar and a rather implausible through-line of a missing ring and some stolen money, and you have the ingredients of a classic farce. Add to this Simon Higlett’s comedic playground of a set complete with 70s wallpaper and a loaded staircase and you would think it’s enough to give Mischief Theatre a run for their money.
Pasquale has an affable quality that makes him easy to warm to, but he doesn’t quite match Crawford’s performance. Pasquale does great service to the part by capturing Frank’s innocence, his optimism, performing the malapropisms believably, and getting through verbally dexterous tautological speeches. It’s to be applauded that he doesn’t do a carbon copy of Crawford – hearing Pasquale say ‘I’m a man’ in his trademark squeaky voice has its own joys – but there are also flaws in the performance. Pasquale sets off at such a pace there’s no wonder the whole thing comes in at under two hours. The problem with this is that it occasionally feels like he is regurgitating the script and it means that the humour found in Crawford’s pauses, as you saw him working thoughts through, is lost. Having said that, Pasquale sure knows how to slide down some bannister railings. Aside from the slapstick, he boasts a strong quality for farce, trying to keep the whole thing together whilst it’s simultaneously falling apart. The whole company is strong, especially Sarah Earnshaw is as Frank’s long-suffering and devout wife, Betty. Praise also has to be given to the stage management team led by Nik Ryal; I can imagine them running around the back of Higlett’s set throwing chicken feathers, squirting water, exploding kitchens, and knocking things off walls.
In sitcom, there are often no consequences, as explored to great effect in Terry Johnson’s play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick. But by the end of this two hours, Unsworth throws in a surreal dance routine made of several Frank Spencers as well as a contrived tidying up of the plot – as if the plot was anything we were ever bothered about! In the last couple of months, I’ve seen a gamut of what small-mid scale touring theatre has to offer from the superb Fleabag to the wasted Sherlock Holmes. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, thanks to clever casting, a popular TV show of yesteryear, and amplified microphones so no one can complain of audibility issues, is sure to pack in and satisfy audiences for the remainder of its tour.