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Rising Damp - Darlington Civic Theatre

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 22nd May 2013 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

 

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Rising Damp – Darlington Civic Theatre

Whether it can be attributed to a growing appetite for nostalgia (which always seems to be the case in austere times) or a lack of confidence in producing new pieces by untried and untested new writers (which, ironically, also seems to be the case in austere times!), theatres the length and breadth of Britain have been swamped with a plethora of stage versions of our favourite television sitcoms.

Already, we have had Dad’s Army, Porridge, ’Allo, ’Allo, Last of the Summer Wine and Steptoe and Son, and each production has met with varying degrees of success. Yet, one company seems to have perfected the art of transferring well-loved comedy classics from the small screen to the stage.

The Comedy Theatre Company, headed up by Jan Hunt and David Graham, have already served-up dinnerladies and dinnerladies: Second Helpings, ensured that our social etiquette is on top form with Keeping Up Appearances, and they are currently flying to higher heights and breaking box office records with their production of Birds of a Feather (which stars all three original cast members: Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph!). They, too, are responsible for this excellent production of Rising Damp.

The television series, which ran for twenty-eight episodes over four series, was broadcast between 1974 and 1978 and was the highest-ranking ITV sitcom on the 100 Best Sitcoms poll run in 2004 by the BBC. However, as with many sitcoms of that era (including ’Til Death Us Do Part, Love Thy Neighbour and Mind Your Language), Rising Damp has since been criticised for its racist undertones. So, how would it be received by a far more ‘politically correct’ twenty-first century audience?

In truth, the vast majority of the audience in Darlington on press night appeared to be of an age that would be able to remember the original television series, so it was more a case of living up to their expectations than reaching out to attract a new audience.

That said, this production should be praised for its many strengths. I am slightly too young to recall, with any great degree of certainty, whether the script has been modified to remove some of the more overt racist remarks. However, in a clever and pleasingly gentle manner, it managed to dispel a whole range of prejudices towards race, religion and sex.

The humour in Eric Chappell’s script is subtle enough to elicit chuckles rather than belly laughs and the direction from original TV series star Don Warrington certainly adds an authority and authenticity which works to good effect.

The cast of four (Stephen Chapman as Rigsby; Amanda Hadingue as Miss Jones; Cornelius Macarthy as Philip; Paul Morse as Alan) are a cohesive team and work hard in their respective roles and their characterisations are as near to their television counterparts  as you could hope for. It came as a huge relief that they opted to inject just the right amount of mannerisms to reflect those of the original, without descending into the depths of caricature and mimicry. Not an easy task to accomplish, but they did so with aplomb.

Add into the mix a splendid set, designed by Judy Reaves (who is also responsible for costume design), and all the components combine to provide an evening of nostalgic delight.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs at Darlington until Saturday 25 May, then continues to touring to Salford, Malvern, Norwich, Sheffield, Woking, Bradford and Richmond.

For tickets telephone 01325 486 555 or visit www.darlingtoncivic.co.uk
 

Comments

1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Steve. Sometimes the old ones ARE the best!
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