Stars explained

* A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane

Half stars fall between the ratings


The Goods

Ben Hurd-Greenall as Tom and Lauren Rote as Barbara in rehearsal

The Good Life

Hall Green Little Theatre


There was the burgeoning love affair between the policeman and the doctor’s receptionist, brought together by the new born piglet at death’s door, and then there was the pig, the father presumably, who had already passed over that particular threshold to join the band of bacon butties, and then, would it be unkind to mention a performance that silenced The Sound of Music in one fell swoop?

It was not so much Climb Every Mountain as hold the blessed thing up as it was about to crush the cast. And I suppose we ought to mention the wife swapping parties at the house in Epsom (SatNav details on request), where, one assumes, the nooky was organic, as this is The Good Life.

This Jeremy Sams adaptation first saw the light of day in 1981, just over 40 years ago, which is fitting as we open with Tom, played with a sort of manic enthusiasm by Ben Hurd-Greenall, celebrating his 40th birthday and thoroughly enjoying wallowing in a mid-life crisis. He is the gifted designer of plastic toys for cereal packets, but sees more to life than that.

Lauren Rote is his wife Barbara, a teacher of piano to the tuneless and talentless, who it seems, is a secret eco-warrior. So, when Tom arrives home early having quit his job to become self sufficient, growing their own food, raising their own livestock, instead of calling for a psychiatrist, she backs him to the eco-friendly, net zero hilt.

The sound of cockerels crowing at the crack of dawn, the aroma and sounds of grunting pigs, chickens and a hydrangea eating goat eating was everything neighbours Jerry and Margo Leadbetter could have . . . well . . . not hoped for.

Jerry. played with a suave fear of Margo by Al McCaughey, was Tom’s old boss, a rising star who had shone mainly because of the talent of Tom. He is always trying to get Tom back, even if only part time, for a couple of days a week, partly to help him with some income but mainly to give his own star a polish.

He was perhaps more amused than appalled by living next to an urban farm, which could not be said of Margo, his wife. Margo, who allows herself to be played by Katherine Williams, sees herself as not only superior to mere mortals but also regards herself as the arch schemer of her generation, always plotting to get her way, whether a redecorated house – or the coveted part of Maria in The Sound of Music.

The idea, or perhaps odure, of a Worzel Gummidge theme park next door, has left her in a total quandary. She might understand the Good’s lifestyle about as much as she understands mediaeval Tibetan midwifery, but she certain understands her long standing and deep friendship with her neighbours - with a little bit of a thing about Tom we might mention, and she understands her lifelong ambition to climb every social mountain. So, she is determined to make the two compatible.

the Leadbetters

Al McCaughey as Jerry and Katherine Williams as Margo, in rehearsal

Then of course there is the boss, Sir, Andrew, he who must win at golf, played by the ever reliable Jon Richardson. Sir, is on top of things, prone to making announcements and unable to remember . . . er . . . the name of that bloke who left to keep pigs.

Debbie Donnelly steps in as Sir’s wife Felicity, who seems to live in a gentler, simpler universe – and she likes goats, which is just as well as Geraldine’s head appears as a rather voracious goat in Margo’s kitchen and her rather active rear, the udder end one might say, pops up for milking. Goat front and rear created by Ceri Sian.

David Hirst comes in as Harry the Pigman, which sounds rather like a Damon Runyan character, and he adds a secret ingredient, secretly, to the poppy seed cake. Let’s just say . . . well, pet's say marijuana and be done with it.

Much of the play consists of snippets from TV episodes, which works for anyone who remembers the hit 70’s TV series but the scene where Tom, Jerry, Margo, Barbara, Sir and Felicity are tired as newts, and high as kites is all Sams’ invention.

It is funny mainly because the cast don’t try to do pantomime drunk, a sober person pretending to be drunk. They manage real drunks, who are drunken people trying to appear sober.

Sams’ introduced it to perhaps add a New Age feel, but although Tom and Barbara’s famed and lethal pea pod wine loosened up a few episodes, drugs were not even a glint in the distance, so, although funny, it perhaps didn’t read true in the Good scheme of things.

Around the main characters are some splendid youngsters, Joel Patel as the policeman, Maisie-Leigh Jones as doctor’s receptionist Mary (a quick change from Milkwoman) and Garret Awre as the doctor, who tells us (ad infinitum) that he is not a vet. The trio are also eager young employees at Sir’s firm.

Bringing a TV series to life on stage has its dangers. The first being that unless you have the original cast, comparisons will be made with the screen versions and there is a danger you are in for a night of poor impersonations. This cast, though, make the characters their own. We can recognise the likes of Margo and her social climbing, Tom and his unbridled optimism and the rest of the protagonists, but not because they are trying to be Penelope Keith or the late Richard Briers and so on, but because they are creating their own characters based on the script.

The staging is, should we say, challenging. The script calls for a revolve, a giant turntable in the middle of the stage. I suspect there is not an amateur theatre in Britain with a revolve, so director Richard Woodward has sort of had to . . . be inventive and has ended up going one better, sort of, with revolves in stereo.

Two walls at the rear are really large boxes containing props – and there are a lot of props – one side is the Good’s house, the other the Leadbetter’s, and when the venue changes on scurry the stage crew to spin the boxes around, reposition furniture and scurry off. It is an interruption, but they manage it so quickly it is hardly disruptive.

Woodward has injected pace into the production to keep things moving along and for anyone who remembers the BBC comedy series, which only had four series (1975 – 1978), it is like meeting old friends. For anyone else it is just an evening of splendid gentle fun. To 16-09-23.

Roger Clarke


Hall Green Little Theatre 

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