A couple of weeks ago we spent an evening in the old tram depot, watching the Colchester Mercury Theatre’s ‘Depot’. That was a ‘promenade’ show, in which the audience move around the location – which we enjoyed and reported on.
Last night it was more traditional fayre at the Mercury Theatre itself, watching ‘Porridge’. It was produced by Calibre Productions who previously took ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘Allo, Allo’ on tour. It’s billed as ‘..penned by the original writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais .. this hilarious new play..’ which is a bit disingenuous, as whilst it is a new play, and it is presumably ‘written’ by the two authors, it is essentially two episodes of the TV show with a few other scenes thrown in.
Not that I’m complaining, as it was a very pleasant evening. All the old characters were there, with the actors doing more than passable versions of the originals, with prison officer Mr Mackay getting a big cheer when it became clear we were getting a performance very much in the Fulton McKay mould. Most of the main characters were there – Godber of course, the weak touch officer Mr Barraclough, Scottish hardcase Jim McLaren, somewhat dimwitted Bunny Warren, oily Ives, old timer Blanco Webb, and ‘Genial’ Harry Grout. The only omission was ‘Lukewarm’ as played by Christopher Biggins. Perhaps due to a feeling that this camp character wasn’t appropriate for the ‘noughties’.
The story started with the opening scenes from the first episode, with the characters being introduced, and Fletcher trying to get himself out of wearing standard issue prison footware on account of his feet, and being asked to fill a sample bottle (‘what from here?’). Then up to the break we had the story of the boxing fight, with Fletcher being required by Harry Grout to get young Godber to throw his fight. After the break it was one of the later episodes (perhaps the last one?) in which Fletch manages to get himself Xmas in the infirmary due to finding the escape tunnel being dug by one of the cons.
The setting was handled well, with the back of the stage featuring two levels of the central prison area and stairs down from the first floor to the ground level. Fletch and Godber’s cell was created simpy by dropping a wall from the ceiling against which furniture was pushed into place by the cast. All the performances were strong ones, with Shaun Williamson (ex-East Enders and Extras) handling the Fletch role well. The only slight issue was that he did much less of an impersonation of Ronnie Barker, which was slightly at odds with the other actors in their roles.
But an enjoyable and pleasant night out, high on the nostalgia and not at all demanding. If you want demanding, the Mercury is shortly to show ‘Nora’, film-maker Ingmar Bergman’s version of Ibsen’s controversial 19th Century classic play A Doll’s House.