Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Porridge - Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne

Writers: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Reviewer: Ian Cain

“Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences – you will go to prison for five years.”

For many fans of the BBC’s hit comedy, ‘Porridge’, including myself, that phrase has been etched onto our sub-conscious by the twenty episodes and their numerous repeat transmissions.

‘Porridge’ ran for just two and a half years, between September 1974 and March 1977, yet it’s cultural significance and immense popularity ensured that it was a resounding success, which resulted in it being voted seventh in a poll charting the ‘100 Greatest British Sit-coms’ in 2004. A 1978 sequel series, entitled ‘Going Straight’ also followed, but only ran for one series due to the sudden death of Richard Beckinsale. After successfully bringing ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘Allo Allo’ to the stage, Calibre Productions return with another coup-de-theatre – the first stage adaptation of ‘Porridge.’

Penned by the original writers, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais this hilarious show stays true to the spirit of the original television series and is performed by a talented cast which is led by Shaun Williamson. Better known to many television viewers as Barry Evans from ‘EastEnders’, Williamson gives an excellent portrayal of Fletch, the crafty con with a heart of gold and a scam for every possible situation. The role gives Williamson far more scope to demonstrate his talents as an actor than his soap character ever did and, although he never outshines Ronnie Barker’s performance, he really manages to convince in the part.

His on-stage camaraderie with Daniel West, as Godber, is a joy to behold. West also looks and sounds the part and Sally Vaughan is to be commended for her brilliant casting of each and every role. Nicholas Lumley barks and berates brilliantly as Principal Prison Officer Mackay, whilst John Conroy is good guy to Lumley’s bad as Officer Barrowclough. There are great performances from the supporting cast, too.

All in all, it is anything but a punishment doing ‘bird’ at HMP Slade and, in my judgement, I have no choice but to impose a sentence of laughter, nostalgia and great entertainment at Newcastle Theatre Royal for a duration of two hours.

Photos: Matt Jamie
‘Porridge’ runs at Theatre Royal, Newcastle until Saturday 19th September 2009.

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