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Posts Tagged ‘Sally Tatum’

The original TV version of this 70’s sitcom – all four series in only a few years – was something I returned to in lockdown and rather enjoyed, for both the characters than the storylines of contrasting lifestyles. It also proved to have something to say about self sufficiency which still resonates. The stage adaptation is written and directed by the excellent Jeremy Sams, so that clinched the deal on seeing it.

It starts, as does the first episode of the first series, on Tom Good’s 40th birthday when both he and his wife have a mid-life crisis, simultaneously and seemingly co-incidentally, and they pack in their respective occupations and begin a new eco-friendly lifestyle – in Surbiton! – whilst their neighbours Jerry & Margot continue, one on the corporate treadmill, the other social climbing.

Beyond here we get familiar but still funny stories of the adventure and the contrasting lifestyles, until a second act almost entirely devoted to the pregnancy and dramatic delivery of Pinkie the pig’s litter, where the milk-woman, policeman, doctor and his assistant all get roped in. We even get a live(ish) appearance from Geraldine the goat.

Rufus Hound as Tom & Sally Tatum as Barbara and Dominic Rowan as Jerry & Preeya Kalidas as Margot soon make these iconic TV characters their own, probably the toughest thing to pull off. Nigel Betts and Tessa Churchard do a great job with the seven other roles, particularly in the second act when some nifty quick changes prove necessary.

Other than the 70’s set and costumes, and social norms of the period, it didn’t feel at all dated. It’s safe and predictable, but that brings with it nostalgia and charm which I found impossible to resist. Sams has somehow created an adaptation which doesn’t feel like an adaptation at all, and his staging squeezes every bit of humour out of the situations. Michael Taylor’s design never lets us forget where and when we are, with deft quick changes from the Good to Leadbetter homes.

A warm and cosy evening by the fire, but live in a theatre.

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This is the third Peter Nichols revival I’ve seen in the last five months and three things strike me most – how different every play is to the last (and these three were only 14 years apart), how much better they are than the plays of his contemporary Harold Pinter in the same period and how way ahead of his time he was. This black comedy about bringing up a disabled child is radical in 2013; I can’t begin to imagine what an audience made of it in 1967.

We start with teacher Brian talking directly to us as his pupils, clearly partly improvised with ‘audience participation’. He soon steps into Simon Higglett’s superb, somewhat surreal living room set, is joined by wife Sheila and they begin their story about bringing up their 10-year-old wheelchair-bound daughter Joe. She appears and we realise just how severe her disability is; in addition to the lack of mobility, she can’t talk and can hardly see. For much of the first act, Bri & Sheila step out of he play to talk to us directly about her birth, diagnosis and early life.

In the second act, Sheila returns from Am Dram with colleague Freddie and his wife Pamela and we glimpse the discomfort and clumsiness others demonstrate around Joe; though this is played in an exaggerated comic way, it is no less uncomfortable for the audience. Freddie is well-meaning if somewhat patronising but Pam fails to hide her repulsion. Brian’s mum Grace pops in and behaves as if everything is normal, which is just as uncomfortable as patronising and repulsion. Things return to Bri & Sheila’s version of normal when the others leave, but in between we begin to understand the parental traumas, tough choices and agonising decisions and how all-consuming it is to bring up a chid like Joe. By now this must be sounding like a tragedy, but it’s liberally peppered with Nichols’ dark humour so as he makes you think, he makes you laugh too.

I thought Ralph Little was a revelation as Brian, revealing the agony of the man beneath the jokes. Rebecca Johnson brings real warmth to Sheila, and the chemistry between them is palpable. Owen Oakenshaft and Sally Tatum play Freddie & Pam brilliantly, as grotesques that have come straight from Abigail’s party. It’s wonderful to see Marjorie Yates again after such a long time and her portrayal of Grace is masterly. Jessica Bastick-Vines has the difficult task of playing Joe and does so beautifully. Stephen Unwin, who like Nichols has personal experience to call on, directs with great sensitivity, and by bringing the stage forward, compensates for some of the Rose Theatre’s distance, vastness and emptiness.

Long may the Nichols revival continue. I would now like to place my order for The National Health, followed by Poppy, followed by ………

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