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

quartest

Louise Fulwell as Margo (left) and John Spencer as Jerry with Jess Schneider as Barbara and Martin Salter as Tom. Pictures: Colin Hill. 

The Good Life

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster

****

The wellie-clad Tom and Barbara, along with their pigs, and the social mountaineer Margo (climber being a term far too common and vulgar for her) and her husband Jerry, trying desperately to please her – or survive in his case – became comedy legends back in the 1970s.

Almost half a century on and the Goods and the Leadbetters, along with the muck and magic, and recalcitrant goat Geraldine, are wreaking havoc once more in another sparkling Nonentities production.

Half a century . . . time can be deceptive. The Good Life seemed to be around for ever yet it only ran from 1975 to 1977, four series and just 28 episodes with a Christmas Special and a one off Royal Command performance in 1978 to commemorate the Queen’s silver jubilee – a year late – the following summer. And that was it.

Or it was it for 44 years until Jeremy Sams brought The Good Life back to life so to speak with a stage version keeping true to the original. Sams was not the original writer incidentally, that was Bob Larbey and John Esmonde.

Written as a complete play rather than a patchwork quilt of TV episodes it works well, standing on its own two mud splattered feet, opening with Tom celebrating his 40th birthday - celebrating being a word doing a lot of heavy lifting in this case.

Tom is a draughtsman, a brilliant designer, way beyond the demands of creating plastic toys to be inserted as free gifts in cereal packets – but then, someone had to do it. So, he is more contemplating than celebrating – wondering why he is doing a job he hates to earn enough money to pay for the things he doesn’t need – a question many of the population would be wise to avoid one suspects.

 

goods

Tom and Barbara with revolution just around the corner

It sows the seeds of revolution in leafy Surbiton in what is a lovely performance from Martin Salter who captures the slightly manic, not quite in the same world as the rest of us Tom. who decides self sufficiency is the way to go.

Wife Barbara is spearing candles in to a lemon drizzle cake and wearing a sort of celebration boa to brighten up Tom’s birthday breakfast as he contemplates going off to the job he hates to earn the money . . . etc. She is a piano teacher, enduring teaching people with little or no musical ability. She is funny, coquettish and sexy – just ask Jerry about that last bit - in a delightful performance from Jess Schneider who captures Barbara to a tee, making life fun and living it to the full.

Life being more than full when Tom decides to drop out of the rat race and puts the clock back a few centuries to the days of growing spuds, fattening pigs and keeping chickens, rather than herbaceous borders in the back garden, not, one hastens to add before house prices crash, the norm among the manicured lawns and latest model luxury cars found in the des reses abounding in affluent Surbiton.

The Good neighbours, and they really do have to be good, are Margo and Jerry. Jerry is Tom’s boss. Tom is far better at his job than Jerry, but Jerry has that unerring ability to get on with a mix of crawling and slave like deference with a yes man mentality to superiors, especially Sir, the MD.

Deference to Sir is nothing, mind you, against his deference to wife Margo, deference in this case being more akin to fear. While Tom was working to pay for things he didn’t need, Jerry is working to pay for . . .  whatever Margo wants. John Spencer captures that life of do whatever is required to go with the designated flow - with a nervous hint of rebellion here and there - quite beautifully,

Which leaves Margo. Margo will never understand the Goods and their back-to-basics lifestyle, but, despite it all, values her friendship with them above her distaste for their version of Ambridge next door. Margo wants everything just so – so, in case you are wondering, being everything her way. She is a member of all the right clubs and societies including the music society where she expects, as a matter of course, to have the lead role in any production – and is the obvious choice, at least in her eyes, to be Maria in the upcoming The Sound of Music. When that view was seen to be somewhat optimistic expectation was changed more into something akin to a declaration of war.

Margo, who doesn’t even have a hint of a sense of humour, is not one to be crossed in what is a wonderful cut glass accented, dressed perfectly for the occasion performance from Louise Fulwell. (Hope that was all right, Margo . . .)

Along the way we come across Sir, the MD, given a pompous air by Bob Graham with his big announcements (yawn) and his golfing prowess (lack of) and memory lapses when it comes to . . . er . . .uhm . . . Tom, Sir, he’s the one called Tom.

margo and Jerry

Margo, the lady, and we do mean Lady, of leisure and manservant husband Jerry

Then there is his wife Felicity, a poor creature you actually feel sorry for in the splendid hands of Tracey Mann. Felicity, you suspect, was real fun, a life and soul of the party sort . . . and then she married Sir.

Adding to the colourful bucolic scene next door to Margo enters Harry the Pigman, with that mild whiff of sty, played by Dean Meusz. Harry is an expert on both pigs and the more exotic end of the herbal cigarette market, which adds, like man, a laid back, spaced out feel to later scenes . . . just saying.

Then there is the great pig crisis which sees Jess Bishop, the Assistant Stage Manager who multitasked first as Sir’s assistant, Margaret, and then, in the great medical emergency, was found moonlighting as doctor’s receptionist, Mary.

Ah, the doctor . . . Dr Joe, played by Nick Kendrick, is not a vet, as he tells us with metronomic regularity, and he can also pop up as a policemen, or at least Nick can, appearing as a PC soon after (after as in time to get changed) Dr Joe leaves to play golf – doctors who could also double up as policemen? That’s one idea to solve two shortages at once  our political masters missed in their manifestos.

Meanwhile did we mention the Unigate milkwoman played by Chris Meusz? Someone nicked a bottle of milk it seems. She supplied the cream, single not double, stepping up when needed and it took all of them as well as a wrecked Volvo and dented milk float to avert a medical disaster and give us a happy ending. Except that was not the end and it would have needed a lot more than that motley crew to save The Sound of Music. One suspects seeing it again would not be high on the list of anyone’s favourite things with the hills not so much alive as vanishing over the horizon. Still, all’s well that ends well and it ends very well indeed.

If you remember The Good Life then this is a delightful trip down memory lane – just watch where you put your feet to avoid the pig muck and goat poo. If it was before your time . . . well this is a lovely gentle comedy in its own right and it matters not one jot whether you have seen or even know anything about the original. It is nicely written with some wonderful lines, has plenty of laughs and is beautifully acted by a cast who avoid a sort of theatrical karaoke and instead make the characters their own.

As for the set . . . I have never seen a revolve in an amateur production before and Director David Wilkes and the set team have done a quite magnificent job with a stage filling revolve with the Good’s kitchen on one side and the Leadbetter’s living room on the other all driven by a one manpower engine, rotating when necessary. The added touch stage left of an Aga in the Good’s home swivelling to become a serving hatch for the Leadbetter’s up-market lounge is an extra bit of theatre magic. Full marks as well to the four strong stage crew with silent, hidden set changes and smooth revolves.

As always The Nonentities are stretching the boundaries of amateur theatre to its limit with another fine performance paying homage to one of sitcom’s all time classics. The pigs will be grunting backstage to 22-06-24.

Roger Clarke

17-06-24

The Nonetities

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate