Rising Damp at Blackpool Grand Theatre

Rising Damp. which appeared at the Grand, is the stage adaptatiom of the successful ITV sitcom broadcast between 1974 and 1978. The set was cleverly constructed, showing two rooms of a bedsit with the bedroom wall cut away so the audience could follow the action. As the printed programme for the production indicated, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the TV original, mostly set in Rigsby’s less than salubrious guest house with four occupants, was carried off by the strength of the original cast.

The stage version does try to imitate those main characters but in doing so ran up against some limitations. I felt that Stephen Chapman, playing Rigsby, was given various unenviable tasks. First he had to take the role made famous by Leonard Rossiter – not an easy act to follow. The degree that the whole cast was asked to copy the originals meant that

Grand Theatre
Grand Theatre

Mr. Chapman had to copy the voice Rossiter used originally. With many of this character’s lines being long and rather complex I thought his delivery was somewhat hurried, making it on occasions hard to follow.

The voice used by Cornelius MaCarthy, playing Philip Smith was, like the original character, a close approximation to received pronunciation, no doubt making it easier for a skilled actor to use clearly on stage, which he did. In the original this was used to make the limited if somewhat humorous point that this was a black man, originally supposedly from overseas, sounding more English than the English. This led to a further problem for the production. The show’s original ruminations on race were of their time (and of that time, somewhat challenging of stereotypes). However, reviving them in their more or less original form did not really suit the atmosphere on the 21st century and much of the supposed humour in the situation was rather strained.

Another area of humour depended on stock, dated characters, for example that of Miss Jones (Amanda Handingue) as the rather romantic, bordering on sex-starved, woman of the boarding house. She feared Rigsby’s advances, fawned on Philip and was seduced by the idea of bedding the virgin student Alan Moore (Paul Morse) complete with collapsing bed.

The story line simply exploited these characters and was divided into scenes which were somewhat disconnected, ranging over time from the arrival of Alan at his new flat to find himself unexpectedly sharing with Philip to a year later. There was little in the way of character development though there was a nice ending. When various revelations were made concerning Philip he was left telling stories to Rigsby with the implication that this lasted for long into the night.

So perhaps a night of nostalgia for those remembering the days when TV channels could count the audiences for comedy in the many millions, when the foibles of Rigsby and his unreturned love for Miss Jones were as hilarious as the bursting of his many prejudices by Alan and Philip.ย  This nostalgia was the main draw, however, and the memories of second world war veterans and racial issues of the 1970’s are not something easily shared with a modern audience. The tour continues nationwide.

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