Rising Damp – Review – Sheffield Lyceum
Rising Damp – Review
Sheffield Lyceum, June 2013
by Mathew Gillings
It must have been a hefty task for Don Warrington, director and one of the television show’s original stars, as he sat down and began to work on this stage production. It is 35 years since Rising Damp was last on our TV screens. The feat of bringing such a large-scale show back to life isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Considering the length of time since its original broadcast, Warrington has to be cautious when adapting to the stage. Feathers often ruffle when a new form deviates too greatly. Yet there’s equal outcry when it’s a direct copy. Thankfully, and somewhat cleverly, Warrington strikes the right balance.
I am probably the youngest audience member present. The venue is full with those wanting to reminisce on the past and get one more peek into the fascinating lives of the characters. Akin to its natural sitcom style, the show follows the intimate lives of just four people. Whilst it’s not terribly clear where Rising Damp is set, it’s safe to assume that the audience transport back into a 1970s student flat, somewhere in Yorkshire.
The flat is owned by Rigsby (Stephen Chapman). He’s a narrow-minded, prejudicial, and incredibly thrifty landlord. Alan (Paul Morse), a medical student, is thrust into the rotten, dingy flat. Only to find it is also occupied by Philip (Cornelius Macarthy), a black town and country planning student. They form a working relationship, and collectively stand against Rigsby, who is meanwhile trying so very hard to seal a date with Miss Jones (Amanda Hadingue).
“Mannerisms copied extremely well”
The appeal of this show is in the banal routine of the characters. It is this mundanity that brings the characters to life and makes the show ever-more gripping. The love triangle that our characters encounter may at first appear to be an overused plot line, but it is the delivery that makes this one stand out more than any other. Chapman’s portrayal as Rigsby is simply second-to-none.
His jittery movements, stutters, and uncontrollable twitches match the late Leonard Rossiter identically. Hadingue’s melodramatic character raises plenty of laughs too. She gives a theatrical sigh each time she exits the set. The performers must have spent hours watching the original actors’ every moves. They go on to copy their mannerisms extremely well, and fulfil the roles very effectively.
“A huge gamble”
Macarthy’s character, Philip, is the butt of many not-so-subtle racist jokes throughout the show. It comes as a slight shock considering the morals of today. But it is this likeness to the 1970s television show that makes everything tick. I highly doubt the production’s popularity would survive without Warrington continuing to push the boundaries. Costuming is also particularly impressive. Morse wears flares. It just doesn’t get more seventies than that.
Overall, I feel Rising Damp is a good production. Whilst I’d suggest it’s a type of humour that you either love or hate, I’d also argue that it helps to have prior knowledge of the television show. Jokes can be often misinterpreted without knowing of the characters’ demeanour. Warrington takes a huge gamble on this stage show. I’m glad to say it pays off.