By Ted Willis, from the novels by Richard Gordon
Directed by Bruce James
Venue: Connaught Theatre
Date: Tuesday 15th April 2008
I only managed the first half of this – I had some digestive trouble and couldn’t relax and enjoy myself, so it seemed better to head home. Steve stayed for the rest, and gave me feedback later. 3/10 was my rating for the first half, though as I wasn’t feeling so good, that may have been a bit mean. Steve reckoned a lowish 5/10 though, so perhaps I wasn’t so far off.
We are both familiar with the Doctor in the House storyline, and there was nothing new here. To put it on the stage, all the action was set in the flat that the students were sharing, which meant that the surgery “sketch” had to become a demonstration in the flat. Nothing wrong with that, but the material did seem dated and rather flat.
Whether this was accurate or not, it certainly seemed to be the opinion of the director, and possibly the cast as well. Steve described it as the “Morecambe and Wise” version of the story. The cast mainly got their laughs by making deliberate mistakes, fluffs, etc., and apparently ad libbing to the audience. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, and it looked to both of us early on that it was planned rather than accidental. For example, Simon Sparrow was using a microscope at one point, and a piece came off and rolled onto the floor. Fine, he came and got it, making a suitable funny comment, but then he kept playing with it. Whenever there’s a genuine mistake like that, the actors usually leave well alone, so it was pretty clear that this was a setup. Confirmation came when the performance ended on the button – no chance of that if they’d really been screwing up that much.
Having said this, the performances were very good. Damian Williams as Simon Sparrow did most of the fooling around, and did it very well. Eric Potts, one of our favourites, was playing Sir Launcelot Sprat, and although he was a bit too much on the cuddly side at times to strike fear into anyone, he was still very entertaining. The play was framed by the device of asking if there was a doctor in the house, as the leading lady had had an accident. Two doctors responded – two of the cast – and they started reminiscing about their time together as students. Cue the flashback. James Campbell as Grimsdyke did the occasional narration piece during the play, between scenes, and also finished it off, but there was nothing much to it other than emphasising that the action takes place in the 1950s, and allowing the numerous asides to the audience to fit in more comfortably. It’s a good enough device, and the performances were good, but there was one big drawback. The asides and funny business, while entertaining, tended to point out how unfunny most of the actual dialogue was. I certainly found the fooling around more fun than the play itself. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for me in my condition, and might not have been enough even if I’d been in top form. However, I’m happy to give the play the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps if it had been done with more enthusiasm for the original piece, I might have enjoyed it a lot more.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me