In this stage adaptation of the classic BBC TV comedy series, all the well-loved characters of the Home Guard of Walmington-on-Sea who battle daily against the Germans and local ARP Warden Hodges are vividly brought to life. From the moment that the actors appeared for their first drill practice, I was instantly transported back to Saturday evenings as a child watching the antics of the platoon with the rest of my family and was soon treated to remarkably faithful representations of the characters. There is so much to enjoy in this production and, with so many superb performances from a show that has the focus on the main male characters of Dad’s Army, my apologies to anyone not mentioned in this review – there are no weak links in this show and as a result it is a terrific ensemble production.
Under Sally Marshall’s expert direction, each of the members of the makeshift regiment seemed to really inhabit the characters and personify the spirits of the famous comedy actors who originated the roles, whilst still keeping their performances fresh and bright. While it might seem easy to ‘merely copy’ the original actors, these characters are so well established in the British public’s psyche that to try and add innovative and original aspects to them would seem out of place – and to impersonate them so exactly is a great skill in itself, the result of evidently hours of hard-working focused rehearsals and study into each character development.
Fraser Adams is simply extraordinary in the role of Private Frank Pike: the voice, mannerisms, facial expressions, all are exactly that of a young Ian Lavender, but Adams also has the most exquisite comic timing and flair for the part. In a similar way, Alistair Faulkner brings all the attributes of John Le Mesurier’s Sergeant Wilson to the stage, with each dry witty comment, raised eyebrow, glance and hand gesture illustrating how much skill is required to bring such an understated but humorous character to life.
Colin Hayman epitomises Clive Dunn’s Corporal Jones, with each “Don’t panic!” and “Permission to speak!” request accompanied by the physicality reminiscent of the bumbling butcher, again with superb timing. David Taylor is delightful as the genteel Private Godfrey, another with timing that is spot on, whilst David Rhodes brings so much passion and comic skill to the role of the dour Scot, Private Fraser, that his performance can be considered anything but “Doomed!”. Michael Bowyer demonstrates great physical comedy skills as Captain Mainwaring, with moments of genuine pathos amongst the blustering pomposity, and capturing the essence of Arthur Rowe’s creation. While Kris Hamilton plays Private Walker more as a cheeky Jack the Lad than a stereotypical spiv, I really liked his more light-hearted characterization and the rapport he has with Adams’ Pike.
The set is excellent in design and the attention to detail in the set dressing and props is exceptional, from the village hall ‘stage’, the panels on the walls and floorboards, the white tape on the windows, the perfect wall divides to the period-perfect props; the bookcases in the office have so many little items that are never used in the play or referred to in the script, but are essential components to lending authenticity to the location and I really appreciate such thoroughness and accuracy. Likewise, the costumes are almost perfect for the time period and enhance the overall aesthetic effect.
It seems churlish to mention any hiccups, but there were a few times on the opening night when the pace dropped a little, a couple of the well-known jokes were pre-empted and there were more than a couple of appearances by the prompt. The set changes themselves were actually very well planned and executed when the changes were happening, but there were also some very awkward overly long periods between some of the scenes where the stage was bare of cast or crew, the lights were minimal and I was left with the thought “Well, what are we waiting for?”. However, the choice of authentic 1940s music or repeat of the theme music did successfully cover these pauses, enough that they kept the audience engaged and not chatting through the empty stage times. None of these little blips adversely affected the overall production and I feel that these areas will only improve over the run.
If you know and like the original TV show, then you will thoroughly enjoy and be entertained by this new edition of the Old Guard; if you don’t know the originals, then be prepared to enjoy meeting the characters for the very first time. Rather than having a narrative arc throughout the play, this has more of an episodic feel to it – it’s just like indulging in a box-set binge, so sit back and enjoy!
Run continues from 8 – 16 March (no performances 10 – 11 March); 7.30pm each evening with a 2.30pm Saturday matinee.