Bedsits and memories

Rising Damp

Malvern Theatres

***

LIKE anyone who has seen the television series Rising Damp I found it hard to imagine anyone other than that revered cast playing the roles of Rigsby, Alan, Philip and Miss Jones.

Almost before the first lines of the play had been delivered, however, the audience's delight was palpable, as it became clear that Stephen Chapman was going to give us a spot on performance of Leonard Rossiter's version of the pathetic Rigsby, stutterings, bizarre mannerisms, nervous tics and all.

The same can be said of the three other characters, albeit to a lesser extent. Cornelius Macarthy as Philip convinces Rigsby, if not the audience, that he is a multi-wifed African prince, and Paul Morse comfortably inhabits the role of medical student Alan, previously played by the much loved Richard Beckinsale.

Amanda Hadingue is the fourth and final cast member, and her portrayal of the lustful and flouncing Miss Jones ticks all the right boxes, with more than a nod to Frances de la Tour's interpretation of this flighty object of Rigsby's unrequited lust. Interestingly, the play is directed by Don Warrington, who of course originally played sophisticated student Philip all those years ago.

Set in a seedy boarding house in an anonymous northern university town, this production is in fact based on Eric Chappell's first play The Banana Box which was produced at the Apollo Theatre, London in 1970.

In the early 70s The Banana Box was transformed into what was to become ITV's top comedy of all time, Rising Damp. Scenes from the television series have been added into the original play to create this new stage version of Rising Damp, brought to us by the Comedy Theatre Company, who also produced stage versions of Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies and the BBC's Birds Of A Feather.

The squalid shared rooms of Alan and Philip made for a convincing set, and there was much laughter throughout the show as we witnessed landlord Rigsby's unsuccessful attempts to woo Miss Jones who was far more interested in the charms of her younger housemates.

I felt though that despite originally being written as a play, Rising Damp did work better as a sitcom, as so much of the entertainment and humour is character based rather than being driven by any kind of plot.

The storyline itself is rather flimsy (Alan moves into the house and ends up moving out) and whereas the character of Rigsby was written to make fun of prejudice and bigotry I felt that a lot of the humour was very dated and that the regularly visited theme of Philip being black and ‘other' wore rather thin.

One line which made me wince referred to drama queen Miss Jones, about whom it was said, ‘To the starving man, all bread is fresh.' Thank goodness television and theatre roles for women have (mostly) moved on a little since the 70s.

As an exercise in nostalgia, however, and as a piece of light-hearted entertainment, this production worked well. It seemed that the majority of the audience were fans of the sitcom and for them this play brings old, familiar (although possibly not all loved) characters back to life. I'm sure after watching this, there will be plenty of people eager to watch the television re-runs, if only to compare the acting of the original stars with that of this new cast. I'm tempted to do the same myself. Almost. To 15-06-13.

Amy Rainbow 

Rising Damp moves on from Malvern to Norwich, Sheffield, Woking, Bradford and Richmond

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