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Shaun gives a wicked performance in Porridge

PUBLISHED: 18:03 30 September 2009 | UPDATED: 17:14 16 August 2010

SUCCESS: Shaun Williamson as Fletcher and Daniel West as Lennie in a stage versioin of the hit TV sit com, Porridge.

SUCCESS: Shaun Williamson as Fletcher and Daniel West as Lennie in a stage versioin of the hit TV sit com, Porridge.

Porridge is the latest 1970s sitcom to be adapted for the stage, and in keeping with the high quality of the original series, it s probably the best one yet,

Porridge is the latest 1970s' sitcom to be adapted for the stage, and in keeping with the high quality of the original series, it's probably the best one yet, writes Mark Campbell.

Much publicity surrounded the casting of Shaun (Eastenders, Extras) Williamson as irascible lag Norman Stanley Fletcher. While it's impossible to imagine anyone else coming close to the sheer brilliance of Ronnie Barker in the role, Williamson does at least give it his best shot.

Perhaps wisely, he doesn't try and mimic Barker (an impossible job, considering the late actor's multi-nuanced performance), instead opting for a cheeky jack-the-lad persona not a million miles from his other TV roles.

His colleagues in the cast go for closer assimilations of their small-screen counterparts.

Nicholas Lumley is an uncannily accurate Mr Mackay, right down to the robotic walk and oddly effeminate arm movements.

Henpecked warder Mr Barrowclough is brought to life by John Conroy in a delightfully funny turn, while Richard Tate as the white-haired old Blanco, towing his wooden mule around filled with black-market goods, is an endearing Mr Pastry figure.

The popularity of Porridge starts with the brilliant writing of Dick Clements and Ian La Frenais.

This is displayed most obviously in the touching scene in Fletcher's cell when first-time convict Lennie Godber (Daniel West) finds himself unable to cope with the stark reality of life inside.

West brings real fragility to the role of Fletcher's gangling young cellmate (played originally by the late great Richard Beckinsale) and the father/son chemistry is there in abundance, although never overstated.

Staged at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, Gavin McAlinden and Ed O'Driscoll's impressive production makes full use of modern techniques to bring HM Slade Prison to life.

Fletcher's cell may not be authentically claustrophobic, but the inventive scene changes, realistic backdrops and clever use of period (and not so period) music all help create a fully realised world.

Despite the impression given in the handsome 'prison handbook' programme, this is not a specially written show but a combination of two episodes (The Harder They Fall and No Way Out) liberally sprinkled with dialogue from across the series.

This means that although the jokes may be familiar (and in many cases, they grow funnier with repetition anyway), there's also no problem in adjusting to the tone of the piece - this is a pitch perfect recreation of a sitcom classic.

l The current production at the Orchard Theatre is the musical Annie, running until this Saturday. Tickets: 01322 220000.

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