The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024

Review: Dad’s Army, People’s Theatre

David Whetstone joined the ranks to assess the latest homage to a small screen institution
The Walmington-on-Sea platoon, Home Guard. Credit: Paul Hood

Play spin-offs from TV sitcoms are a genre unto themselves. You go not to see characters on a page brought to life by actors but actors playing the actors who made them famous on TV.

So it is with Fawlty Towers, Hi-de-Hi! and indeed Dad’s Army.

Captain Mainwaring, thanks to 80 episodes in nine series during the 1960s and 1970s and repeated endlessly thereafter, is Captain Mainwaring as played by Arthur Lowe.

Sergeant Wilson can only ever be John Le Mesurier’s Wilson and Corporal Jones only ever Clive Dunn’s Jones.

In this regard the People’s company, directed by Tracey Lucas, has done a remarkable job.

Give or take a pound of flesh here and there, the principals of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard are pretty much in accordance with the BBC template. Andrew De’Ath as Private Frazer even appears to be wearing John Laurie’s eyebrows to go with his ferocious Scottish accent.

Privates Pike and Godfrey with Sergeant Wilson and Captain Mainwaring. Credit: Paul Hood

Steve Robertson gives us a more than passable Mainwaring as created by Lowe, the humourless, pompous and yet somehow endearing small-town bank manager turned self-styled scourge of the Nazis, and Roger Liddle channels some of Wilson’s public school charm as patented by Le Mesurier.

Kevin Gibson has Arnold Ridley’s doddery Godfrey to a tee, as does Joe McLaughlin as scarf-wearing Pike, as played by Ian Lavendar whose death earlier this year deprived us of the last surviving member of the platoon.

James Beck, who died just 60 episodes in, created the archetypal spiv in Private Walker and Mark Buckley has a good stab at it, while David Cooper is recognisably Dunn’s belligerent out-of-step nincompoop, Jones.

All the other popular characters are there, too – the vicar, the verger, the local newspaperman and Hodges, the annoying ARP warden, with Jim Boylan catching something of Bill Pertwee’s officious whine.

The ladies get in on the act. Credit: Paul Hood

Not an awful lot for the women to do in a production perhaps chosen to redress the balance after the excellent Blue Stockings from earlier in the season, other than to conform to the prevalent sexist stereotypes of 1960s and ‘70s comedy when Jimmy Perry and David Croft were writing the series.

They are interviewed to be platoon skivvies, essentially, with Pike suggesting they could sew on buttons. Then they’re auditioned to play Lady Godiva for no other reason than to cause Mainwaring maximum embarrassment.

Nothing whatever for them to do in the opening sketch which features a captured U-boat crew and one of the most famous comic commands ever uttered on TV – and anticipated far in advance by a tittering audience which cheered immediately afterwards.

Mind, those Nazi sailors, I have to say, seemed curiously shapely.

Morris dancing for victory in Dad’s Army. Credit: Paul Hood

And to be fair, Jones’s paramour, Mrs Fox, gives Ann Zunder something to get her teeth into, as does Mrs Gray with Helga McNeil sharing a ‘Brief Encounter’ moment with Mainwaring, forever shackled to his indomitable but never seen spouse, Elizabeth.

The set’s a ringer for the church hall on TV – well done, that design team – and if the plots seem silly and inconsequential, they were penned by the show’s original creators.

I was surprised at the number of young people in the audience. Surely they can’t think the Second World War was really like that.

I remember my grandparents being disgusted by the first episode of Dad’s Army in 1968, shamefully sending up the brave men of the Home Guard, but then tuning in to be disgusted again the following week.

Dad’s Army, oddly soothing in these undoubtedly dangerous times, runs until Saturday, April 27.

Tickets from the People’s Theatre website.


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