Review – 4**** Only Fools and Horses – Theatre Royal Haymarket

Been down in the dumps lately, feeling a touch of executive stress as a certain Peckham resident might say? Well check this out; a classic TV sitcom gets a new lease of life on stage as a bright and breezy musical.

As a proud Londoner I have often railed against the portrayal of Cockneys both on stage and screen. A complete misunderstanding of intonation resulted in caricatures based on flat vowels and dropped aitches. One TV series that perfectly captured the essence of a London accent was Only Fools and Horses. Brilliantly written by John Sullivan and featuring a stellar cast including David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, it ran sporadically for over 20 years. This stage adaptation is now reaching the end of a four year run and the West End will be much poorer without it.

Paul Whitehouse co-wrote this homage and also stars as Grandad and Uncle Albert. In the space of two hours key storylines from the sitcom are distilled and interspersed with some highly polished original songs, plus a couple more that will be instantly familiar. A revolving stage recreates the Nag’s Head, Sid’s greasy spoon and the Trotters’ flat with consummate ease. The attention to detail is remarkable; Del Boy’s mohair coat, Rodney’s ill-fitting two tone suit, Denzil’s donkey jacket; and of course, the legendary mustard yellow Reliant Robin.

The cast are excellent and have studied their own characters almost to the point of obsession. Tom Bennett (Del Boy), Craig Berry (Boycie) and Lee VG (Trigger) pull off scarily good impressions that almost verge on doppelgangers. Unsurprisingly, Paul Whitehouse is word perfect and captures every glance and grin of the elder Trotter brothers.

The mostly original songs are the real standout and provide a natural vehicle for the narrative. They showcase the sunny disposition of Londoners and rhythm of city life. ‘Where have all the Cockneys gone’ is an astute commentary of how times have changed. While ‘The girl’ and ‘Marriage and love’ are very strong and linger in the memory long after the show has ended.

Apart from the songs, there’s nothing you haven’t seen or heard before. Lines have been lifted from the TV show and remodelled to provide a new shine. However, to write a musical based on ‘Horses’ leaves the creators little choice but to fall back on the series. Even so, it remains a great example of how to transfer a show from TV to the stage. This production closes on 29 April so the clock is ticking folks.  I feel duty bound to leave the final word to Del Boy: ‘Mange tout, mange tout its lovely jubbly! Come and see the show. You know it makes sense!’

Writers: Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan, based on the TV series written by John Sullivan.

Director: Caroline J. Ranger

Review by: Brian Penn

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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