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Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

by on 8 March 2018

Frankly Speaking

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

by Guy Unsworth

Limelight Productions at Richmond Theatre until 10th March, then on tour until 28th July

Review by Vince Francis

Working outside my usual brief of music gigs, I found myself in the crowded stalls bar of Richmond Theatre enjoying the pre curtain-up buzz (and a glass of a very passable Malbec) on a mid-week mission to capture the essence of the Limelight Productions’ latest offering, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em was an iconic sitcom which ran on the BBC from 1973 to 1978. It was part of the golden age of British sitcoms, which included the likes of Porridge, Dad’s Army and The Good Life. It also brought Michael Crawford to prominence and was something of a springboard for his career. The central character, portrayed on television by Crawford, is Frank Spencer, a hapless individual, a product of an over-protective childhood and prone to disasters.

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The programme, which I think deserves a mention in this case, provides a brief history of British sitcom, together with a potted social, political and Top 10 charts history, together with the background to both the show and the original television series. This is an informative, entertaining and well-written programme and the use of period fonts adds to the atmosphere. Well worth the price.

Moving into the auditorium, the 70s feel is reinforced by the use of selected pop hits from the era, always guaranteed to prompt a fond nostalgic smile and a little discreet toe tapping. Such gems as Pilot’s Magic and Tony Orlando and Dawn’s Say Has anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose immediately place one in that magic period of wide lapels and flared trousers, nay, even stacked heels.

The show opens with the original Ronnie Hazlehurst theme, a duet for piccolos that leaves us in no doubt that we are about to see an homage to the original show. I only mention the theme music as there is an interesting aspect to it. Apparently, the rhythm of the notes spells out the title, but without the apostrophes, in Morse code. My Morse is a little rusty, I’m afraid, so I’m unable to verify this, but it’s a good story.

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The single set is the interior of Frank and Betty’s home and is decorated with beautifully garish wallpapers and furnished appropriately, including a wonderful stereogram. Frank’s attempts at DIY are legendary and the effect is that nothing works without a stamp on the floor, or a slap on the wall in the right place. Credit to Simon Higlett for the design here, but also credit to the set builders and stage crew for bringing it to life. The use of sliding partitions is intelligent and the built-in effects work well. I’m sure it will be a maintenance nightmare, but well worth the effort.

Mr. Higlett is also credited Costume Design, with Michabel Wakeman-Read as supervisor. Again, a comprehensively well researched and executed element.

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The plot revolves around Betty attempting to tell Frank that she is pregnant, whilst Frank is preoccupied with the possibility of appearing on television. Add to that Frank’s insistence on cooking dinner, the arrival of Betty’s mum, Barbara, with her new boyfriend, both of whom are aware of the news, and the possibilities for misunderstanding and mishap are endless.

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Joe Pasquale, in the role of Frank Spencer, offers a respectful nod to Michael Crawford in his interpretation, but stamps it with his own personality. Joe, an accomplished comedian and actor, knows how to make this stuff work. Whilst his distinctive voice lends itself to the delivery established by Crawford, it doesn’t attempt to mimic that overly, but rather to access it when it helps to advance the cause (incidentally, I understand that Michael Crawford based his Frank Spencer voice on his daughter, particularly when she was pleading for something like staying up late). There are several quick costume changes, two or three machine-gun monologues, some bruising physical gags and an impressive amount of business, all which are carried off with great aplomb. Here, I also doff my figurative cap to the stunt coordinator, Kev McCurdy.

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Sarah Earnshaw excels as the ever-patient Betty, desperately wanting things to be right for Frank. There is always a risk that a character like this could disappear among the mayhem, but Sarah’s performance doesn’t allow that, stepping aside where necessary, but then stepping back in again effectively.

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I was especially taken by Susie Blake’s portrayal of Barbara. Her comedy experience is extensive and this show gives us a chance to admire the range of her abilities, including some quite brave physical stuff.

The supporting roles are all played with equal verve and carried off in style by Moray Treadwell, David Shaw-Parker and Chris Kiely.

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Guy Unsworth’s script and direction move the piece along seamlessly with some of the gags being reassuringly predictable – and no less funny for that – combined with some surprises to keep the audience on their toes.

I wondered how a press night audience might react, peppered as it was with seasoned hacks. I needn’t have worried. My overall impression was that those who remembered the original were delighted with the tribute being paid and those that didn’t loved the knock-about. I would just add that, in naming all and sundry above, my objective is to acknowledge the level of work put in by the various elements of scripting, design, stunt-work and performance to make funny look easy. Warmest congratulations on achieving that.

Vince Francis
March 2018

Photography by Scott Rylander

 

From → Drama, Reviews

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