Adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams, based on the TV series by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey
Produced by Fiery Angel
The Lowry, Salford
26 October 2021 - 30 October 2021; run time 2hrs
It was always going to be something of a risk, putting one of the country’s best-loved TV sitcoms on stage. The Good Life was a massive hit in the 1970s and is still shown regularly today. A play of that name was bound to attract an audience.
But how do you step into the shoes of Penelope Keith as snobbish Margo, or Paul Eddington as her henpecked husband Jerry? Can you – or indeed should you – play their friends and neighbours Tom and Barbara Good without echoing the amused and grounded performance of Richard Briers or the bubbly one of Felicity Kendal?
Importantly, is The Good Life still relevant today? Jeremy Sams, who has adapted and directed the show for the stage, believes so. It is about a man who, reaching 40 and suffering from chronic career constipation, leaves his job and with his wife digs up their middle-class Surbiton garden to become self-sufficient. Sams claims today’s concerns about sustainability, food origins and even the focus the pandemic put on home cooking, are along the same lines. It’s an homage to the characters, as well as an old-fashioned comedy, that captures the spirit of the TV show while inventively rejigging the story, he says.
This leads to some rather odd compromises and tensions. Over-familiarity with the original sitcom can lead to parts, even if deliberately dated, feeling stale rather than nostalgic. Repeated references to June with the large you-know-whats, are uncomfortable in today’s #metoo atmosphere.
As for the new bits, the raucous dinner party with peapod wine and spiked poppyseed cake for example,
– though one of the funniest scenes – is only just short of a step too far into farce. It is difficult at times to see where the play is going; it can feel like a series of episodes.
This does not mean that the play is without a number of redeeming features. The lead actors settle into their roles so you soon forget that they are not the original fab four. Rufus Hound and Sally Tatum as Tom and Barbara portray a couple at times loving, at times argumentative. Dominic Rowan and Preeya Kalidas (the latter with suitably over the top 1970s outfits) as Jerry and Margo have some of the best lines and make the most of them.
They are given excellent support by Nigel Betts and Tessa Churchard, who play a number of roles including some that involve several quick changes.
A special mention for the set. Suitably furnished and with plenty of Seventies paraphernalia, it in turn shows the interior of the Goods’ home and that of the Leadbetters.
And we must not forget the star of the evening – Geraldine the goat!