Dad’s Army is a touch stone of British Culture. The darkest days of our modern history, written into comedy by those who lived the reality and since its first broadcast in 1968 it has been a constant presence on our TV screens. The characters are as well-known as our closest friends and the catchphrases part of the lexicon of British life. Big shoes (boots?) for the Everyman Theatre to fill and a lot of material to condense into a two-hour family performance on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Could Everyman theatre pull it off? The set was simple and functional, suitably decorated in propaganda posters urging us to remember our gas masks, dig for victory and of course to keep calm and carry on. The pre-show music filtered crackly tunes transporting us gently back to 1940….Then the bombshell, due to illness, today’s show would not include a Frazer, the dour, cynical Scot – immortalised by the catchphrase ‘WE’RE DOOMED! WE’RE DOOMED!’.
Then the familiar opening bars of the theme tune started up, many of the audience spontaneously began clapping the beat and singing along to every word. The cast marched on, greeted warmly by this sympathetic crowd. Casting must have been fun – Pike, Godfrey, Jones and Walker all bearing strong physical resemblances to their on-screen counterparts. Special mention though, must go to Mike Morgan playing Sgt Wilson. Not only did he fully master Wilson’s languid demeanour to the whole affair but if I closed my eyes it was as if Le Mesurier was alive again, to gently advise ‘do you think that’s wise, Sir?’
Then came on Captain Mainwaring, to uproarious laughter, mainly because he was dressed head to toe in ‘foliage’! Foliage (or a collection of scraggy branches and leaves) was the operative word of Mainwaring’s lecture to the platoon – a wonderfully comedic interaction of one liners and physical comedy. And this combination of fast flowing laughs is what made the TV Series so popular and also provided the Everyman writers with a rich seam of source material to pick from. This they do admirably, sequencing several different TV scenes into one First Act, highlight of which was a fully costumed hilarious Morris Dance! However, pick and mixing different episodes into one narrative left it feeling a little disjointed in places. But, as Corporal Jones always excitedly reminds us, ‘DON’T PANIC! DON’T PANIC!’.
The Second Act concentrated on one episode, where the Platoon were entrusted with guarding a captured German U-Boat crew overnight. This made for a more fully rounded performance for the audience and allowed the cast to be part of a story rather than just being a platform to recreate individual scenes. This they did well, fully supported by Geraint Dixon playing the arrogant German Officer who does not want any soggy chips. This episode was a good one to choose. It has plenty of crisp comedy dialogue but also it culminates with the physical comedy of the men trying to retrieve a grenade on a piece of string from Corporal Jones’ trousers. Probably the real reason to pick this episode though, was the chance to be able to deliver that most famous of comedy lines, ‘Don’t tell him your name, Pike!’
So, did Everyman theatre pull it off? On balance I would say, yes. Judging by the audience reaction I would say a resounding yes. Dad’s Army is a fixed part of British culture as much as Everyman’s Open Air season at Sophia Gardens is a quintessential part of the Cardiff Summer. With today’s performance they provided three generations of my family with a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon out, with plenty of laughs and a general feel good factor. I will be back again for more next year! And to end on the words of the absent Private Frazer, ‘I never doubted them for a minute.’