Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Two classic episodes from one of the UK’s most iconic situation comedies. Timeless humour.
Dad’s Army has appealed to all ages for generations. And it’s now generations since the first episode hit our black and white, valve driven televisions nearly fifty years ago. The programme ran through nine series and eighty shows and only concluded in 1977 because the cast were, with one or two exceptions, well beyond retirement age and rather past standing to attention on parade. And the passing of time means that each of the principal characters, Pike (Ian Lavender) excluded, now watches the perennial BBC2 repeats from their celestial armchairs.
A good number of episodes were adapted for radio and do get an occasional airing but not perhaps in the manner of this production directed by Owen Lewis and featuring just two rather hard worked actors, David Benson and Jack Lane, who cover all the parts (including the crowd scenes) between them.
The cavernous Pleasance Queen Dome is decked out like a radio studio, complete with microphones and the ubiquitous scripts that actors can get away with using in this environment. The nasal tones of John Snagge introduces each episode, which when I visited were My British Buddy and The Day The Balloon Went Up. And then suddenly we’re away, familiar words from familiar voices echoing around the room.
Familiar words? Well, surely you know each of these scripts off by heart? You don’t? Where have you been these past fifty years?
Well, in My British Buddy the Americans have, at last, decided to join the war, with the first contingent of troops arriving in Walmington-on-Sea to the delight of the ladies and the dismay of Mainwaring and his men. And in The Day The Balloon Went Up, the Verger finds himself caught up upon high in the netting of a barrage balloon, causing angst for the Vicar and chaos for the platoon as they try to recapture it before the RAF shoot it down.
This was a very well presented and performed hour of comfort comedy. Benson and Lane are consummate impersonators, with a mastery of both the voice and mannerisms of the multiple characters they each portray. Perhaps the one aides the other but the effect was such that, if you closed your eyes, you could imagine that each of the original cast was in the studio with you.
Lane’s Mainwaring was impeccable, despite his looking nothing like the rotund Arthur Lowe. And he captured Pike to a tee. Jones had that familiar whistle through his teeth and his take on Wendy Richards (who played a number of cameo roles throughout the series, often as Walker’s girlfriend) was right on the money.
Benson played the bulk of the smaller roles, about a dozen of them, but each was instantly identifiable. I particularly liked the Vicar, maybe because that’s a role I’ve taken myself in the past, and Fraser’s distinctive Scottish accent with its rolled ‘r’ was excellent, as was his take on Hodges, Walker, Godfrey and the laconic Sergeant Wilson.
This is timeless comedy. I know each script very well, yet still found myself laughing uncontrollably at times, even though I knew what was coming next. Comfortable theatre, nostalgic even. And two blooming good actors to boot. Well worth a look.