Monday, 19 April 2010

Dad's Army Marches On Review Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne

Dad's Army Marches On
Devonshire Park Theatre
19-24 April 2010
(Show seen 19 April)


Timothy Kightley - Captain Mainwaring
David Warwick - Sergeant Wilson
Richard Tate - Lance Corporal Jones
Leslie Grantham - Private Walker
Kern Falcolner - Private Frazer
Thomas Richardson - Private Pike
Maitland Chandler - Private Godfrey
Sarah Berger - Mrs Gray/Cissy/ Doreen
Martin Carroll - ARP Warden Hodges/Station Guard
Helen Carter - Edith/Betty
Ursula Mohan - Mrs Fox/ARP Warden Iris/Edna
Jonathan Tanner - Dr Malet/Raymond/The General/MP/Platoon
David Vale - George Clark/ Government Minister/ The Colonel/Platoon
Jonathan Niton - MP/Platoon
Helen Phillips - Waitress/ ARP Warden

It's been two years since Leslie Grantham and the Dad's Army cast came to Eastbourne performing Dad's Army The Last Episodes.

The success of that tour led to this new production "Dad's Army Marches On". Once again the producer is Ed O'Driscoll.

I was going to start this write-up by referring back to my review of that show..... but it isn't there - because I didn't do one. We saw it just before I started the reviews. It also means this accomplished two-finger-typist has had to resort to typing the cast list when I was hoping to copy and paste the many cast members who reappear. Once I've done this review I will create a page for that show although I won't do a full review as the shows are so similar in casting, quality and rating.

Timothy Kightley as Captain MainwaringA word about my rating on this one. I'll be honest here I am not a die-hard Dad's Army fan on TV although I have seen most of the episodes and am fully familiar with the characters and their traits. Whilst I have given this 3 and a half (which is still an above average show) somebody who is a devout fan of the Home Guard based series might easily consider this a 4 or more. Equally if you can't stand the TV series and you're not bothered about seeing some fine acting you may consider it a 2 - or less?  Although why go if you really hate something that much ? A question which I would like to pose to those who left in the interval.

I do realise everybody likes different things but for me it was the quality of the cast in this show rather than the show itself which was the attraction.

Anyway I'll quickly refer to the last production "The Lost Episodes". That was, somewhat obviously, made up of some genuinely "lost" material that had been discovered and transformed into a stage show. There was insufficient material for the complete show though so it was a 50/50 production of lost and televised material.
I can recall clearly that the second act was a lot funnier and enjoyable than the first. Speaking to Leslie Grantham after he said this was because the first half was the material that had been "lost" whilst Act 2 was familiar material. Perhaps it explains why somebody did their best to lose it in the first place !!?

Joking apart though how does Dad's Army Marches On compare? Well this production is based solely on 4 episodes that were on T.V. Mum's Army, Branded, Young And Beautiful, The 2 1/2 feathers. To those in the audience who were grumbling that women are in this show and Dad's Army had no women I suggest you don't know the series all that well at all. The late Carmen Silvera and Wendy Richard were both in the "Mum's Army" episode for example.

Comedy wise it is comparable with the "The Lost Episodes". Once again I found the second act far funnier. There is no particular reason for this apart from the fact that the episodes the material is taken from I consider funnier and slightly more entertaining.

Turning TV shows into stage shows is still very much in vogue at the moment and when it comes to recreating a series consisting of several episodes regular viewers will have their favourites. So once again somebody else who sees this show may disagree totally with everything I say (don't worry I'm married I'm used to it).

Let's get one thing clear though the size of the audience for this first night show was nothing short of pathetic. I know there have been shows at The Devonshire Park Theatre this year that have attracted even smaller audiences but they were smaller casts, lesser known actors and not as widely advertised. The cast deserved a far better attendance than this on opening night - especially with it being a "Friends Of The Devonshire Park Theatre" night.

I don't think for a minute that Dad's Army marches on is going to play to packed houses every night but when you think this iconic series used to be watched by 15.5+ million people at its peak (and it hasn't even been repeated much) it should be able to fare better than this. Come on viewers you aren't all dead yet - get yourself out and support your local theatres. It is during shows like this you look around at dwindling audiences and wonder how many theatres are going to survive the next 15 years? Will theatres go the way of our traditional pubs in closing everywhere? If I can enjoy a stage show from a TV series I didn't even rave about I am sure that those who sat down every week to watch it are going to get a great deal of pleasure from it.

That pleasure will come from the casting. You can see how every actor and actress has studied the artist who played the original role. It's good that the cast have stayed together for this second show. When so may people have perfected those characteristics that TV viewers are familiar with the consistency in performance pays off.

Leslie Grantham as Private Walker, may be the headline artist but he has by no means the biggest role in either act. However it is a vital, pivotal role as it is essentially Leslie's narration that links each mini story together.

As regards to the rest of the cast it seems a little insulting to mention one and leave another out when all have put so much work into researching these roles. So apologies to those I don't mention, it's not personal, I'd just like any reader to still be awake at the end of this piece.

Timothy Kightley as Captain Mainwaring. Tim has this spot-on. I think even the late Arthur Lowe would be impressed with the way Mr Kightley once again plays this role.

David Warwick (Sergeant Wilson). I can't imagine the character originally played by the late John Le Mesurier is an easy part by any means. Wilson was a quietly spoken, yet often sarcastic, sidekick to Captain Mainwaring, his lines often delivering a 'dry' humour. Warwick has clearly paid attention not only to the voice acting but even Le Mesurier's body movements.

Richard Tate as Lance-Corporal Jack Jones. Quite possibly the most entertaining role in the Dad's Army series it takes a brave man and a fine actor to step into the role made famous by Clive Dunn OBE.
So many episodes revolved around Dunn's character, so many parades messed up by his mistimed steps, so many of his exclamations of 'Don't panic !' when he always did !
Yes, at the time of writing this, Clive Dunn is a sprightly 90 years young and one of a very few original Dad's Army stars still alive.
Retired and living in Portugal I know he has met Richard and I hope he has had an opportunity to see him playing his iconic role. It would be hard to find anybody else who could match the quirks and hilarity that made Jones such a funny character on screen, Richard is quite simply brilliant.

Kern Falconer (Private Frazer). Excellent and the accent is perfect.

Thomas Richardson (Private Pike). Pike was the youngest and perhaps the most stupid member of the Dad's Army platoon. Although he has had a monumental stage and screen career since (currently in Sister Act in the West End) it will always be one of Ian Lavender's most famous roles. Tom Richardson has done an excellent job in studying Pike's traits. There is a scene in this production which has Pike trying to spot Mainwaring's toupee under his cap. The body language has been impeccably copied, it's one of those moments when it's actions rather than words that gets the laughs.

Leslie Grantham and Richard Tate - Dad's Army Marches OnAll other cast members are equally as great in their own roles.

It's also a very cheerful cast who appear to get on really well with each other. A fact probably reinforced by the fact that two years on the same actors reunited for this new production. It's also nice to have a cast who are so talkative and friendly with those that have gone to see them. Richard Tate is always a lovely guy to meet as is Tim Kightley who is a touring theatre regular. I know we go to the theatre a lot when Richard Tate comes up to us and says "how lovely to see you both again!" and I think "Aren't I meant to say that to him first?"

But the award for 'patient star of the night' has to go to Leslie Grantham.

My dear wife wanted a photo with Leslie, normally a simple 2 second  task, and he is always willing.

6 takes later and a lot of laughs later we finally got a presentable shot.
shot 1 wife shuts eyes
shot 2 Leslie looks like he's nodding off
shot 3 somebody bumps into me and I chop half wife's head off
shot 4 Leslie starts laughing now and I blur the shot
shot 5 As both my victims are in the frame, laughing, I get bumped again and chop Leslie's head off
shot 6 We get the shot!!!!!

We now probably have the best collection of daft Leslie Grantham shots in the world which will not be published but looked back on with a smile with fond memories of a very funny few minutes.

My reasons for the following rating have already been explained. Should there be a part 3 to Dad's Army we'll be there to see it looking forward to watching this terrific cast again.
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