Sarah Earnshaw as Betty & Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer – photo from Theatre Royal
Norwich Theatre Royal has turned itself into something of a time machine this week as Joe Pasquale leads an enthusiastic cast right back to the early 1970s to bring the TV classic sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em back to life in a stage version.
Some stars define a role and make it their own, and Michael Crawford created an unforgettable hapless monster of mischance in the form of Frank Spencer. Crawford was famed for doing all of the stunt work himself in a series of increasingly unlikely and dangerous escapades. Pasquale manages to reboot the character and make it his own, with an astonishingly quick fire verbal delivery and considerable dexterity in the frequent physical comedy in the play.
The time machine takes us back to many of the classic ingredients of 1970s stage farce too – trousers are dropped and much of the plot hinges on long drawn out and rather implausible misunderstandings as Frank’s wife Betty (Sarah Earnshaw) tries to summon up the courage to break the news to him that he is about to become a father. Add in four other diverse if stereotypical characters and serve at high speed! Betty’s mother Barbara (Susie Blake) is fond of a glass or two of wine, and quite fond of bank manager David Worthington (Moray Treadwell). Betty also confides in her priest Father O’Hara (David Shaw-Parker). The cast is completed by Chris Kiely who pops in as the local constable.
The show is enlivened by music that was charting when Frank first enjoyed his career of clumsiness with tunes such as Tiger Feet from Mud getting toes tapping.
Those of us who actively participated in the 1970s have mixed emotions about going back there. Lots of things were closing down or being diminished and we seemed increasingly to be just a satellite of America, until joining the European Community gave us a new sense of direction. In this play Frank struggles with unemployment and a private landlord and seems incapable of holding any job for more than a day or two in spite of his enthusiasm and commitment. His multiple attempts at DIY improvements have made his house a death trap, indeed the set for this play deserves a credit as one of the major components of the comedy of the show.
I went to this show with little initial enthusiasm unlike most of the packed audience who were laughing out loud from the very start, but I have to admit that I was won over by this fast paced and very funny performance. Joe Pasquale is outstanding and gives us a new Frank Spencer that we cannot fail to warm to. He is supported by a talented and versatile cast who quickly define each of their diverse characters. While the show is undoubtedly nostalgic it has a modern pace and complexity while accurately rebuilding the tense drama of endless calamities that Frank Spencer creates around him. At the climax all the loose ends of the plot are neatly drawn together, but the plot survives rather better than Frank and Betty’s house which will need more than a bit of DIY to fix.
This is a happy and cheerful show which is skilfully directed to make the most of every minute with no gaps or dull moments. So polish up your platform boots, get your flares on and pop back to 1973 for this joyful show.
© Julian Swainson 2018
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em plays until Saturday 14th July For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk