I must confess to approaching this with some trepidation. Even if you can rise to the challenge of taking something so well-suited to the small screen and making it work as a stage play, can you really do it without Michael Crawford’s central performance as Frank Spencer?
Fortunately the answer is a resounding yes, on both counts. Writer/director Guy Unsworth shows a sure touch with the material, crafting an impressively satisfying plot to explain the chaos whilst being true to the spirit of Raymond Allen’s original. He also adds an element of word play which I don’t recall being a feature of the TV show, but which suits proceedings admirably. He clearly loves the material and doesn’t do anything too clever to reinvent it or give it a post-modern twist. It remains set in the 1970s (that wallpaper! Well done designer Simon Higlett) but wears this lightly so you still feel you are watching something fresh and current (as it was when first broadcast) rather than a self consciously period piece.
Joe Pasquale has the dubious privilege of following in Michael Crawford’s footsteps. He turns out to be a brilliant choice. Having only previously seen him on television my concern was that his own comedy persona would be too much to allow Frank Spencer a look-in. But Pasquale has an innocent and naive quality. This not only suits the role, but brings it to new life in a way which honours the huge contribution of Crawford to the character’s creation while at the same time enabling you to put aside any memories of the original almost immediately he is on stage. He becomes our Frank Spencer and brings warmth and humanity to the role as well as many, many laughs.
Unsworth’s script also gives other characters more room to breath. Sarah Earnshaw is effortlessly Betty, ever supportive of her exasperating husband, and shows us how their marriage works. And Susie Blake (pictured) as her mother gets to show off shamelessly throughout with a richly comic and crowd pleasing performance. The three innocents who experience the Spencer mayhem are Moray Treadwell as the bank manager who almost gets cajoled into funding Frank’s latest venture, James Paterson as the family priest Father O’Hara and Ben Watson as a BBC cameraman and police constable. They wisely play it straight for the most part. Like the many serious actors who sparred with Spencer in the original TV show, the only thing to do it is behave as you would if you actually encountered a character like him in real life.
On top of all this there is the physical comedy and chaos. It’s not unlike The Play That Goes Wrong in some ways, although here the physical elements are just part of the comedy mix and don’t dominate.
Some Mother’s Do ‘Av ‘Em is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 11 June 2022 and then continues on tour.