Joe Pasquale stars as Frank Spencer in Guy Unsworth’s adaptation of the classic British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em by Raymond Allen, at Royal & Derngate until Sat 5 May 2018.
Those familiar with the 70s sitcom will not be surprised to hear that this is a tale of misunderstandings and dodgy DIY. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em starts as Betty (Sarah Earnshaw) confides in Father O’Hara (David Shaw-Parker), telling him some very important news – but it’s not long before Frank (Joe Pasquale) has some news of his own to share. What follows is the chaos of a bizarre family dinner with Betty’s mother, Barbara (Susie Blake), her date Mr Worthington (Moray Treadwell), a visit from a film crew, Frank’s magic act and much ado about a missing ring. And some chickens.
My memories of the original TV show are hazy Sunday evening reruns when I was little, and it’s not a show I held a great deal of affection for. However, I left the theatre having laughed my head off, and my face aching from smiling. Not quite as slick as, say, The Play That Goes Wrong, but Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em manages to make the overwhelming calamity feel not only totally absurd but also surprisingly natural. Clearly, this is a very hard working cast who make the domino effect of well-intentioned cock-ups seem effortless.
Yes, a lot of the gags you can see coming, and a few feel a little like they maybe should have stayed in the 70s, but this show shines by taking things even further than you’d expect without taking anything too far. Just as you finish laughing at one gag, there’s another one to start you off again.
It seems wrong, somehow, to praise a farce for its subtlety, but Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em had it in bucketloads – from small bits of set falling apart in Pasquale’s hands, to knowing looks between characters, to the honest and loving interactions between Frank and Betty. At the heart of the sitcom was always their love for one another, and Pasquale and Earnshaw capture it superbly.
Joe Pasquale as Frank is perfect. He’s managed to steer clear of an impersonation of Michael Crawford’s iconic version of Frank Spencer and make him all his own without losing any of the nuances that make Frank “Frank”. He’s awkward, but endearingly so, and less cringe-worthy than I remember the character being. His speech is littered with malapropisms – “Betty, I think I’ve been articulated!” he groans after a particularly painful pratfall. Pasquale delivers some incredibly difficult, and long, monologues impeccably, and wholly deserved the rounds of applause and whoops they garnered from the audience.
Sarah Earnshaw too, as Betty, captures the wide-eyed, ever patient essence of Michele Dotrice’s original characterisation, without it being an impression. Exasperated, frustrated and bewildered by Frank’s ineptitude, but always ready to go along with his schemes, Earnshaw’s Betty was warm and sweet, and was brilliant to watch.
Susie Blake is hilarious as Betty’s mother, Mrs Fisher, with stunning comic timing as she gradually succumbs to the effects of some rather potent prune wine. Her dislike of Frank is thinly veiled and as subtle as her drunken flirting with Mr Luscombe (Moray Treadwell). Strong performances too, from David Shaw-Parker as the confused Father O’Hara, Moray Treadwell as Mr Worthington/Mr Luscombe, and a memorable performance from Chris Kiely as Desmond/Constable that saw him taking on Pasquale in a round of “who will break character first”.
Simon Higlett‘s set is fantastically well done, summoning up the feel of the 70s, but also cleverly designed for the physical comedy, complemented by Matt Hoskins’ quick lighting changes. Jenny Arnold’s choreography must be applauded, especially for one particularly wonderful musical sequence on the staircase which was a moment of laugh out loud genius.
It’s clear that Guy Unsworth has written and directed this adaptation with a great deal of love for Allen’s sitcom – the script is pacey and witty, and absolutely crammed full of double entendres, and the action is relentlessly energetic, save for a few beautiful moments of calm and gentle emotion from Frank and Betty.
If, like me, you found the TV show on the uncomfortably embarrassing side, don’t be put off seeing this production. This is British comedy at its absolute best – rude and silly but with a great deal of heart. And the occasional chicken.
Performance: Tues 1 May 2018, Derngate Auditorium, Northampton
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em runs at Royal & Derngate until Sat 5 May 2018, before continuing on tour across the UK. For more details visit http://somemothersdoaveem.com/
Becki is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too.