“Not another one!” This was the only thought in my mind as I fumbled through the Porridge program, eagerly awaiting the lights to dim so that my pained face could be disguised.
When a TV series comes to stage, it always comes across to me as quite a public act of desperation. My last outing at the King’s Theatre was Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, which really was a classic case of squeezing the last drop out of the lemon. In the case of Dinnerladies, a rotten, brown, utterly useless lemon.
Porridge, however, has something in its corner that dinnerladies did not: it was actually a good TV series. And it was well loved. This, of course, means that there is better material to refer to. Better characters. Better setting, and, worryingly, more danger of being bitterly disappointed.
As the lights went down, I crossed my fingers, legs and toes. Please be good, I prayed!
And, ladies and gentlemen, it pleases me to report, it was truly fantastic.
The spirit of the series has been captured to perfection. It was odd not to see Ronnie Barker sitting at his bunk, but Shaun Williamson is perfectly cast as Fletch and does a wonderful job. He brings something new to the character. Perhaps a little more depth than the original character, which is a good thing. Fear not, the old Fletch is still here, alive and well. Sharp, witty and lovable.
Fletch, however, is not the only great character in Porridge. And, indeed, Shaun Williamson’s performance is not the only one worthy of mention. Daniel West is outstanding as Fletch’s cell mate, Godber. And Nicholas Lumley just lights up the stage in a hilariously over the top performance as strict prison officer, Mackay. An absolute joy to behold.
The stage looks great and portrays the size of the prison well, through various scene changes in different locations. You definitely get the feeling that you are looking at a real prison, though the light hearted nature of the show is perhaps not quite as accurate.
The writing is the key here that unlocks the magic. It is as good here as it ever was in the show. There is some great situation humour, some classic one-liners and also, surprisingly, some really touching scenes and even flashes of the brutality and corruption of prison life.
The Dinnerladies could not serve up Porridge. Thankfully, this cast and crew could.
A really enjoyable night out. It would be a crime to miss it.
Runs until Sat 13th March, 7:30pm (2:30pm & 7:30pm Sat)