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

mother cast

Jill Simkin as PC Leslie, Steve Hyett as Mr Worthington, Christina Peak as Betty, Roger Shepherd as Frank Spencer, Joanne James as Mrs Fisher and Carl Horton as Father O’Hara
Some mothers do 'ave 'em

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


Oooh . . . nice. You will be hard pushed to find a better tribute to British comedy icons Frank Spencer and Betty than this sparkling production at The Grange Playhouse.

It is laugh out loud funny, an evening of total mayhem, physical comedy, bannisterial bruising of the nether regions and with enough electrical and structural faults on the set to have any health and safety executive needing therapy, and, for those of a certain age, it is pure nostalgia harking back to the days of Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice.  

Frank and Betty arrived on our TV screens in 1973 and although only 23 episodes were ever made they became part of the fabric of our comedy psyche and like all icons have to be treated with care and Grange give them all the respect they could ever want.

Chris Pilkington is quite superb as the hapless Frank, displaying that one talent you can never teach – timing, knowing instinctively just how long to delay an answer or aside for maximum effect. It leaves an audience aching with anticipation building the laugh like a comedy pressure cooker.

He has the mannerisms of the Frank those of a certain age know and love but this is no Stars In Their Eyes impressionists’ job, Pilkington gives us enough Frank to lay down a marker and then makes the part his own.

Frank is permanently between jobs, or, more accurately, between job interviews and supporting him is Christina Peak in a lovely performance as the long suffering Betty, somehow surviving among the chaos created by Frank and his legendary DIY non-skills. We open with her being pregnant and trying, unsuccessfully to tell Frank. It’s a message left undelivered for much of the play.

Betty’s mother, Mrs Fisher, is played with a slowly increasing level of inebriation by Joanne James after finding a sort of immunity to the damaging effects of Frank’s mother’s prune wine but not to its alcohol content.

Mrs Fisher is after a sort of fisher man and currently has her hooks into Mr Worthington, a wealthy, single bank manager, who Frank has decided could be a possible investor in his magician’s career (don’t ask). His loan application is comedy gold.

mothers trio

Carl Horton as Father O’Hara, Chris Pilkington as Frank and Steve Hyett as Mr Worthington

Steve Hyett’s Mr Worthington, Scottish as they come, finds himself in a parallel universe with no one sure what Frank knows about Betty’s pregnancy, if anything, and Frank rambling on about a letter from the BBC about an interview that Mr Worthington is unaware of, leaving the only certainty total confusion all round.

And that brings in Mr Luscombe from the BBC and camera operator Leslie, Leslie being played by Jill Simkin. Robin is laid out by Frank’s door without a letterbox and ends up in Frank’s hen house in the corner of the living room (another don’t ask)

How that all fits in when the police arrive about the £6,500 theft from the town hall is, well that’s all part of the plot, as is Father O’Hara, played, or perhaps more endured by Carl Horton. He is choked, half drowned, blown up and taken closer to his maker more times than he would wish and he is merely an onlooker.

The beauty of the whole production is that writer and director Guy Unsworth created the play in consultation with the original scriptwriter Raymond Allen as a complete play.

This is no welding together scenes from the TV series into an ill fitting mish mash of well known bits but a complete, new comedy, written for the stage, and, particularly in the second act, although the plot is a bit of a stretch and at times plain old silly there is enough stupidity and daftness to keep the laughs flowing and it remains true to the original.

As well as the splendid cast the set from Martin Groves also has a starring role with bits that fall off, explode, burst into flames around furniture which seems to have a small but vital deficit when it comes to the leg department.

It is all aided by spot on lighting and sound from Stan Vigurs and Colin Mears, which make the quite complex special effects of lights, bells, record player, cooker coming on and off on cue, or at least on thump of the wall or stamp of the foot, actually work.

Director Kerry Jones and her cast and crew have set a remarkably high bar for the rest of 2024 and if you want a laugh, a bit of nostalgia and an evening of wonderful theatre, then some mothers will be ‘avin ‘em, as long as Frank is kept away from tools or wires, or indeed the building, to 20-01-24.

Roger Clarke


Ronnie Barker and Norman Wisdom were the BBC’s first choices for the role of Frank and David Jason was also considered before Michael Crawford was approached.

The theme tune from Ronnie Hazlehurst has two piccolos playing the letters of the title in morse code.

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