Birds return with a flock of laughs

Flocking together: Pauline Quirke as Sharon, Lesley Joseph as Dorien and Linda Robson as Tracey

Birds of a Feather

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

IT is 14 years since Birds of a Feather was last on our TV screens – Christmas Eve 1998 to be precise – but as soon as the birds walked on stage it was as if they had never been away.

Pauline Quirke is carrying less timber these days but that hasn't made Sharon's Edmonton council estate mouth any smaller while Linda Robson is still fussing about youngest son Travis (Louis Dunford) as Tracey, who still thinks the best and worst of everyone, often in the same sentence.

The sisters have a comfortable mundane life in Shalentrace, their house which, when the series ended on TV, was in Hainault, deep in the posh bit of Essex until . . .

The third of the trio, Dorien, had gone missing but out of the blue emerges as the proprietor of the Cherish retirement home with Lesley Joseph showing a fine pair of legs as the still man-hunting divorcee whose hobbies all tend to be horizontal.

Linda Robson

The play is written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who created the original series, along with Gary Lawson and John Phelps, a quartet who wrote most of the episodes, and to their credit they have produced not just a Birds of a Feather play but a play that can stand on its own two feet.

There is always a feeling of trepidation when seeing a TV sitcom reinvented for the stage where sometimes a few episodes from the series are welded together or one episode is bloated out to fill; and then you have the cover versions - actors trying desperately to look and sound like the actors who were trying to look and sound like how they or the director at the time felt the characters would act.

But this is a different bird altogether. For a start you have the original cast, looking not much different then they did when the show ended and this is not a rehash, a sort of cobbled together stage version of a Christmas special, this is a very funny comedy in its own right. 

It is likely many people in their 20s will have never seen Birds of a Feather, and that probably extends to people into their 30s, knowing the viewing habits of teenagers in the 90s but that does not matter one jot.

The whole story is there for anyone to follow, fan or not. Sharon and Tracey are sisters who started living together when their husbands were first jailed and Tracey wants nothing to do with husband Daryl who is out . . . again . . . trying to go straight . . . again, even to the point of telling her son Travis his dad is dead.

Sharon is still at war with the world and finds it difficult to hold down a job as she is a) bone idle and b) does not take kindly to being told what to do, which unfortunately is a sort of pre-requisite of being an employee.

 Dorien meanwhile is becoming a rather sad character, still very funny, but Joseph brings in a little pathos as the aging vamp who even loses her syrup (syrup of figs – wig “My God, I'm catching Cockney”, screams a horrified Dorien) and there is even a serious scene, tinged with a little sadness when Tracey and Dorien explain how they see each other and Dorien talks about her mother. The jokes are still there but there is a bittersweet edge.

The story revolves around a suspicious death in the care home of a very rich nonagenarian client who just happens to have changed his will a week earlier.

Lesley Joseph

Which brings in Robert Maskell as his somewhat unhappy – and disinherited - son Roger Zimmerman, making his first, somewhat belated visit to see his father in three years.

He in turn brings in the law in the shape of DS Teddern played by Caroline Burns Cooke to provide an unexpected ending.

The dialogue is fresh and sparkling with plenty of originality and topicality and, in the more intimate world of the theatre Sharon can be a little more basic, Dorien more suggestive and Tracey a little more down to earth with some wonderful one liners and throwaway lines from all three.

Add to all that a plot that is believable, direction from Simon James Green that keeps up a good pace and even if you had never heard of Birds of a Feather before it is still a very funny play and well worth seeing. If you were a fan, well, it has to be a must. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Just a small point though – the sound could do with a little bit of a tweak to smooth out the levels. To 24-03-12

Roger Clarke

Meanwhile shaking a tail feather . . .

****

THEY were a hoot on TV, and now Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph are back together on stage and as funny as ever.

The much-loved sitcom ran for nearly ten years on BBC, and seeing people pouring into the Grand on opening night was an indication of just how popular the telly hit was.

But would the theatre version, created by The Comedy Theatre Company, work as well as it did on TV?

The answer is an emphatic yes. The three comedy actresses bounce off each other beautifully, so there is hardly a break in the laughter.

Pauline Quirke

No surprise, really, that the team work so well together, since Linda (playing Tracey Stubbs) and Pauline (Sharon Theodopolopoudos) began their training for showbiz as 8-year-old pals at the Anna Scher Theatre School in Islington.

Completing the terrific trio is that bundle of fun and sexual innuendo, Leslie Joseph...the neighbour from hell, Dorien Green.

She turns up in a range of tight, short. low-slung dresses, super stiletto heels and looks a cracker.....until, as part of the plot, her jet black curly syrup (wig) is yanked off.

The storyline is amusing, with Dorien running a retirement home, and what a shock she gives her old friends when they are reunited.

But why was the painting in the home the same as the one in Tracey's house? Directed by Simon James Green, Birds of a Feather runs to 24.03.12

Paul Marston 

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