Dad’s Army Radio Show
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 22nd January 2019
” an homage to the original writers and a celebration of a particular brand of humour that has sadly all but passed away”
From the moment we hear the voice of the former music hall star, Bud Flanagan, crooning the famous theme tune for “Dad’s Army” through the speakers, we are wrapped in a blanket of fond nostalgia which keeps us warm for the ensuing ninety minutes. We think we are in for an unsurprising, almost gentle, recap of the BBC television sitcom about the British Home Guard during the Second World War; yet we are immediately caught off guard by the impressive skill of impersonation. David Benson and Jack Lane, between them, take on all the characters with near perfection.
Set in a fictional seaside town on the south coast of England, the stories revolve around a mixed bag of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service, either by being in professions exempt from conscription or because of age (hence the name ‘Dad’s Army’). “Dad’s Army Radio Show” relives three classic episodes; ‘Round and Round Went the Great Big Wheel’, ‘Mum’s Army’ and ‘The Deadly Attachment’, eschewing visual props and set, recreating the atmosphere of a radio broadcast that ultimately relies purely on the script and the voice. A tall order, maybe, but this two-man army conquer the task with masterful ease.
The pair seamlessly bounce between the characters as fast as the humour switches from subtle to slapstick, enjoying every minute and relishing the crackle of catchphrases that have become part of popular culture. They don’t look the part but as soon as Lane utters the clipped vowels of Captain Mainwaring you can close your eyes and picture Arthur Lowe on a grainy black and white television screen. Only, don’t close your eyes! Otherwise you will miss the meticulous mannerisms. Benson’s Sergeant Wilson comes complete with the shy half-smile and self-conscious forehead-patting we loved John Le Mesurier for. Blink and he has morphed into the dour, Scottish Private Frazer or black-market spiv Private Walker; while Lane ricochets between the old but hilariously fastidious Lance Corporal Jones and the young, mother’s boy Private Pike.
Aided by Tom Lishman’s evocatively period sound design, this is not merely an exercise in mimicry. It is an homage to the original writers and a celebration of a particular brand of humour that has sadly all but passed away. It is not laugh-out loud, nor sensational, yet it still bites beneath its soft pelt. It pokes fun at our very Englishness, but the real target is outside aggression, to which it stands up, and fights.
The original television series was expected to have had limited appeal, and all involved were surprised at the popularity of the show, later reflected in the frequency of the repeats over five decades. Similarly, “Dad’s Army Radio Show” reaches beyond the limits of an audience wanting merely to relive the moment. The winning charm of Benson and Lane, that equals that of the mellow yet bitingly ironic original material, not only ensures that this show will stand the test of time and invite repeat viewing, but will persuade us, familiar with it or not, to revisit the original.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Richard Davenport
Dad’s Army Radio Show
Wilton’s Music Hall until 26th January
Previously reviewed at this venue: