Calibre Productions at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
“It doesn't hurt to have a laugh in here ...”
Here being Slade Prison, first glimpsed in this cosy stage version behind a gauze: could be West Side Story, with atmospheric fire-escape stairs and balconies.
Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais have cut and pasted some of the funnier lumps of Porridge for this production.
Are they the Sheridan de nos jours, sitcoms ? Calibre certainly seem to think so, with Allo Allo and Dad's Army also doing the rounds. Or maybe it's a safeish bet in these uncertain cultural times – sitcom script plus soap star equals surefire success.
Nostalgia plays a part too, as with most tribute acts. Hot Chocolate, the Wombles, the Sweeney, and on the soundtrack “Self Preservation Society” from The Italian Job.
A strong cast deliver a polished performance, directed by Gavin McAlinden, with gags and exit lines timed to perfection. A packed Civic laughs long and loud.
Shaun Williamson is a likeable Fletch, with Daniel West as his young cellmate. An OTT McKay from Nicholas Lumley, and my favourite re-creation: Peter Alexander's genial godfather Grouty, thin lipped smile and piggy eyes.
The set – by Paul Wills - is monumental and menacing, with the cell bunk shoved on by trusties. And this week sees the end of a long tour, with Slade coming home to Chelmsford, where the 1979 feature film was shot ...