This funny and surprisingly heartfelt musical based on the beloved TV series is slightly rough around the edges but is more endearing for it.
It would be easy to be slightly cynical about how such a beloved British comedy such as Only Fools and Horses could be transformed successfully in to a West End musical – but once you come out of the Theatre Royal Haymarket that cynicism has melted away into affection for this new way to integrate ourselves once more with the Trotter family.
Featuring a book co-written by John Sullivan’s son Jim and Paul Whitehouse, Only Fools and Horses the musical concentrates on an important time in the brothers lives with Rodney about to get married to Cassandra and Del beginning to think about settling down himself. But throw in the troublesome villains the Driscoll brothers who lend Del Boy £2000 and there is trouble aplenty for Del to sort out.
Much of the script plays an affectionate homage to the original series, creating a lovely nostalgic atmosphere for the audience, throwing in a lot of Del’s classically wrong expressions and sayings that are delightful to hear live. But it feels as though at times the material could have perhaps been slightly braver and moved slightly away from the beloved jokes as it becomes slightly predictable (particularly for those who perhaps know the television series really well).
However, despite this and the fact that the story takes a little time to get going as the audience is slowly reintroduced to their favourite characters, Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan have managed to keep the warm hearted nature and sharp comedy timing. They use this to particular effect during key moments between Rodney and Del that show that while they might bicker, deep down there is a strong bond. The strongest comical moments come between Rodney, Del and Grandad in the flat.
It has to be said that perhaps the main concern that I had going into this musical was the quality of the music and lyrics – but this is a worry that was quickly brushed aside with songs such as ‘Where have all the Cockneys Gone?’ and ‘Bit of a Sort’ having a wonderful cockney style to them that make them completely catchy, while ‘The Tadpole Song’ and ‘Gaze into My Ball’ is wonderfully funny. Every song feels as though it fits in with the story naturally.
Caroline Jay Ranger’s production is consistently lively, making the most of the book -everything is smooth and seamless as it moves from one location to the next despite the occasional rough patch with the book making it feel as though it is moving just from joke to joke. Liz Ashcroft’s impressive set design is wonderfully faithful, really evoking the world of the Trotters while Tim Blazdell’s animations and video design capturing the sights of London are a lovely addition.
it has to be said that all of the characterisations are completely spot on. Tom Bennett’s Del might be cocky but also captures the character’s vulnerable side as well that keeps him likeable – and is actually surprisingly profound when he encourages Raquel not to give up on her dreams. Ryan Hutton is great casting as Rodney, highlighting his frustration at the way Del treats him – with a hilarious drawl that is spot on. Andy Mace as grandad is suitably endearing, while Dianne Pilkington is delightful as the down on her luck Raquel – with her solo ‘The Girl’ proving to be a highlight. There is also great support from Peter Baker as Trigger and Adrian Irvine as Denzel.
Warm, affectionate and entertaining from start to finish, Only Fools and Horses the Musical is c’est magnifique!
By Emma Clarendon
Only Fools and Horses the Musical continues to play at Theatre Royal Haymarket.
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