Only Fools and Horses
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Reviewed – 20th February 2019
“a pukka production that does a lovely jubbly job at maintaining the heart and soul of a classic”
The Trotters have come up in the world. They’re now residing in the West End. But you can’t take Peckham out of these geezers. Only Fools and Horses The Musical has been in the pipeline for many years, but now it has finally arrived, brimming with the familiar warmth and humour that made the original sitcom one of the nation’s most-loved tv shows.
The genius behind the sitcom, John Sullivan had ruminated with the idea of turning his beloved creation into a song and dance show decades ago. He even collaborated with Chas Hodges, of Chas & Dave fame, to noodle around song ideas. Sadly, due to both men’s passing, the gauntlet was passed to the writer’s son, Jim Sullivan, who acquired the help of another tv great, Paul Whitehouse, in finishing where his father had left off.
Unquestionably a tall order to package approximately forty four hours of material into a two hour show, yet Sullivan Jnr and Whitehouse do an excellent job at piecing it all together, picking the most memorable punchlines and visual gags to incorporate. Based around the ‘Dates’ episode where Del Boy first meets his other half, Raquel, through a dating agency, as well as Rodney’s marriage to Cassandra, this stage adaptation sticks to Musical Theatre ‘boy gets girl’ conventions. Iconic scenes are given a nod to, whilst fresh material such as a fantasy sequence that flashes forward from the show’s 1980s setting, to the hipster Peckham of today, is an entertaining addition. The quality of the original writing is not diminished, as Sullivan and Whitehouse have managed to bottle its infinite lovability.
The time and care taken in the script doesn’t always replicate itself in the music, with many songs feeling like the have been idly added as padding. Writing responsibilities were fractured between eleven composers/lyricists, which makes the consistency questionable. The witty, mockney lyrics of ‘Bit of a Sort’, and ‘Where Have All The Cockneys Gone?’ are examples of where the songs really lend themselves in developing the characters, whilst ‘The Girl’, crooned by Raquel (Dianne Pilkington) is reminiscent of Nancy in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! However, the random addition of two pop songs and a couple from Chas & Dave’s cannon of hits, feels as much as a rip off as the dodgy goods out the back of Del Boy’s van.
The cast could quite easily have chosen to impersonate the original stars, yet, for the most case, the decision to embody the essence of the character instead is rightfully selected. However, Peter Baker’s uncanny vocal and physical resemblance to Roger Lloyd Pack’s Trigger is something of a treat. The three generations of the Trotter household are well performed. Tom Bennett is a loveable jack-the-lad Del Boy, channeling his cocky exuberance, and newcomer Ryan Hutton excels as downtrodden Rodney, whilst Paul Whitehouse makes a delightful cameo as grandad. A special mention should be made to Oscar Conlon-Morrey whose virtuosic ability to play many of the small ‘bit’ parts got some of the biggest laughs.
Where the show may be occasionally lacking in the musical department, it makes up for in its barrage of vintage comedy, cleverly bypassing any of the derogatory ‘humour’ of yesteryear. Overall, a pukka production that does a lovely jubbly job at maintaining the heart and soul of a classic.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Johan Persson
Only Fools and Horses
Theatre Royal Haymarket until August 17th
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 5th November 2018
“Flora Spencer-Longhurst, as Simona, is a real theatrical force”
We are in a run-down bedsit, somewhere in London. Half empty whisky bottles compete with discarded manuscript papers for floor space, and swathes of broken violins hang from the rafters. Just as broken is Ye; a former child prodigy. A virtuoso violinist. A victim of a near-fatal car crash that has left her in a wheel chair. A victim of her own jaded view of her success.
The publicity blurb describes this character as suicidal, but Lucy Sheen’s portrayal of Ye yields many, many more dimensions than that. Her deadpan misanthropy, perfectly nuanced, immediately tells the audience that there is a painful backstory here. Yet writer, Jesse Briton, does not allow for any self-pitying clichés in her well-toned script that pitches sharp comedy in perfect harmony with the flattened dreams of its protagonist.
In walks Simona, the spoilt daughter of a Russian billionaire, who has reluctantly been sent by her father for violin lessons. Like cats with bristled tails they are both on the defensive and, more so, the offensive. But forced into this unlikely allegiance, the pair embark on a journey that sees them chip away at each other until some harsher lessons are learnt.
Flora Spencer-Longhurst, as Simona, is a real theatrical force. She manages to transform the character’s teenage spoilt brat into one of fierce independence with a passion for understanding. She starts out breaking a violin and ends up breaking our hearts.
At the heart of A Pupil is the nature of friendship and the conflict of what constitutes success, both in musical and material terms. In a poignant scene Ye explains to her protégé that a priceless violin is worthless in itself. In parallel she concludes her childhood friend Phyllida’s (Carolyn Backhouse) musical success is equally lacking in value because the integrity is missing. Backhouse’s strong and assuredly cool performance gives the counter argument. What good is Ye’s own virtuosity if she can’t pay the rent? The audience is left to make up its own mind.
Yet the strength of Jessica Daniels’ production lies in the fact we are never aware that these ideologies are being explored. It is a very human story underscored with love. Love that is tested to its limits so that the strings are always in danger of snapping. What saves it are the brilliantly staccato notes of humour. The teenage Simona, who cannot read music, interprets the ‘sharp’ symbol on a manuscript as ‘hashtag’. And there’s a show stealing performance from Melanie Marshall as Mary, the long-suffering landlady perpetually chanting the hymn “Lord of the Dance”, while hilariously chastising all around her with a down to earth no-nonsense reasoning.
I’ve been reluctant to draw attention to it until now, as it seems fairer to leave it as a surprise, but I feel I cannot avoid mentioning the live music – a mixture of classical pieces and original compositions by Colin Sell. Spencer-Longhurst’s musicianship is a revelation. “If you have the ability to move other people, there’s nothing else that really compares” she recently said in an interview.
Maybe that is the true nature of success, in which case this production wins all round. Despite a slightly undetermined ending A Pupil is a heartfelt portrayal of discordant souls looking for that resolution from dissonance to consonance.
“They cut me down and I leapt up high;
I am the life that’ll never, never die.
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me:
I am the Lord of the dance, said he.”
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Meurig Marshall
Park Theatre until 24th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: