Leslie Grantham, Timothy Kightley, David Warwick, Richard Tate, Kern Falconer, Thomas Richardson, Maitland Chandler, Sarah Berger, Martin Carroll, Helen Carter, Ursula Mohan, Jonathan Tanner, David Vale, Jonathan Niton, Helen Phillips
James Robert Carson
Over recent years versions of such classic British comedies as Porridge, Allo Allo! and The Likely Lads have hit our theatres, and met with varying degrees of success.
There is, however, something about Dads Army that sees it survive the transition from screen to stage rather better than most.
It is partly because the original writing is so strong that we can still appreciate it, even when the lines are not delivered as well as we know they can be. It is also, however, because the series, amusing though it was, was always driven by the characters rather than the gags. There were people here to care about, and we find ourselves doing exactly that as we watch them grace the stage once more.
Dads Army Marches On is the second Dads Army show that Ed ODriscoll has produced in recent years following Dads Army: The Lost Episodes, which included two episodes from series two that were wiped following their first broadcast in 1969. This new show features Branded and Mums Army, the favourite episodes of the original writers, Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who also penned the modified scripts used here.
Most of the cast members remain the same as in the first show, the most famous of which is Leslie Grantham who plays Private Walker. In between each episode he addresses the audience, which not only makes the most of his talent, but helps to set the scene for the forthcoming drama. With four full-length episodes, plus the opening scene to Asleep in the Deep to establish the central platoon relationships, the evening feels enjoyably substantial.
Unsurprisingly, though Grantham comes the closest, no performer quite matches their on-screen counterpart. David Warwick is no match for John Le Mesurier when it comes to altering the word awful to awfully good when Sergeant Wilson passes judgment on Captain Mainwarings ridiculous toupee. As Mainwaring, Timothy Kightley lacks Arthur Lowes subtlety in delivery, as well as the same mastery of the visual humour. Unlike in the original series, when ARP Warden Hodges shows Mainwaring up simply by standing on a larger soapbox than he, it hardly elicits a titter.
Nevertheless, if no performer is quite as good as the original, they still all do remarkably well. Kern Falconer is an effective Private Frazer, whilst Richard Tate only has to walk on in a silly manner for us to know that we are staring Lance-Corporal Jones directly in the face.
The choice of episodes is also excellent, making the most of the series emotive and comic elements. Branded, in which Private Godfrey (delightfully played by Maitland Chandler) is ostracised for his pacifism before proving that he is the bravest of the lot, is made suitably potent. Then Keep Young and Beautiful provides abundant opportunities for visual humour as the undertaker Frazer makes Jones, Godfrey and himself look younger by using the same methods that he employs to dress corpses.
After the interval Kightley comes into his own as he shows the softer side to Mainwarings character in the Brief Encouteresque episode Mums Army, in which the Captain falls in love with Mrs Gray (beautifully played by Sarah Berger). The final episode The 2 Feathers milks a flashback sequence for all of its comedy potential, but the way in which Jones is accused of having been a coward at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 leaves you practically weeping into your hankie. It is also a nice touch to convert the ending here into that of the final episode ever in which the platoon toast Britains Home Guard.
There are also a few ways in which the show moves ideas on from the original series. The references to the fact that Sergeant Wilson is sleeping with Mrs Pike are just slightly more explicit than would ever have been allowed in a family comedy forty years ago, whilst we actually hear Captain Mainwarings dragon of a wife (whom we never saw in the series) booming from off-stage.
It is hard to picture Dads Army ever making for a scintillating theatrical experience as no actors will ever be able to recapture what Lowe and Le Mesurier, amongst others, achieved at that one moment in time. Nevertheless, for any fan, excepting those who go in with unrealistically high expectations, Dads Army Marches On should make for a hugely enjoyable evening of classic comedy.
Dad’s Army Marches On is touring the United Kingdom, finishing in Cardiff on 13 – 17 July 2010.