Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Roger Crow, June 2018
When I tied the knot in 2009, a little voice popped into my head as I was driving home the next day: “I’m a married man!”
Frank Spencer’s voice. Not mine. And I wasn’t even that much of a fan of the show which turned him into a household name 40-odd years ago. But like many classic sitcoms, characters take on a life of their own. Once impressionists grab hold of a character, immortality is achieved, and Frank was everyone’s default impersonation in the seventies and eighties.
(I loved Lenny Henry and assorted others impersonating him at the same time on Tiswas back in the day, like some mass outbreak of beret-wearing beloved simpletons).
When I saw Joe Pasquale’s one-man show last year in Leeds, it was a breathless, fun-packed, rib-tickling riot of laughter. Then I heard he was stepping into Frank Spencer’s shoes for a stage version of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – a perfect fit.
“Belly laughs for the duration”
Thankfully the live experience is every bit as good as I’d hoped. In fact there are more belly laughs in the first half than in all of the TV episodes put together.
Don’t get me wrong. I liked the show as a kid, but there was something so painfully tragic about Michael Crawford’s character that made it an uncomfortable watch. Spencer felt like a permanent victim, while the raucous canned laughter didn’t help matters.
At Hull New Theatre, the sound of a heaving auditorium roaring with belly laughs for the duration is a beautiful sound.
Some of the pratfalls are so well executed, it takes a couple of minutes for the laughs to subside. (Keep an eye on that scene-stealing front door).
The plot centres on Frank, amateur magician and hapless DIY enthusiast, preparing to appear on a Britain’s Got Talent-style show (though as this is the early 1970s, it’s more like Opportunity Knocks). Meanwhile, long-suffering wife Betty has some family news, and there’s a sub-plot about a missing ring. Like one of Frank’s plugs, wires are crossed and chaos ensues.
“Wealth of visual gags”
I’ll not go into depth about the story because it’s explained in a breathless summation by Joe/Frank in the second act. Little wonder he receives a round of applause.
Susie Blake is terrific as the mother in law, Barbara Fisher; Sarah Earnshaw’s Betty is wonderful, while Moray Treadwell, David Shaw Parker and Chris Kiely do a great job as the assorted characters orbiting around Frank’s mayhem.
The set by Simon Higlett is a beautifully constructed homage to all seventies Britcoms, and there’s probably no prizes for guessing a few bits (intentionally) drop off or don’t quite work.
Feel-good comedy like this is a joy to behold but must have been a nightmare to orchestrate, so full marks to cast and crew for ensuring everything fires on all cylinders.
However, it’s often the simplest of sight gags that work best. Two actors invading one another’s personal space is always fun if done right because it’s so uncomfortable. And there’s plenty of that in this show.
I’ve seen enough bad comics and stage comedies over the years to know class when I see it. And Some Mothers is that perfect ray of sunshine on one of the hottest days of 2018, with Pasquale an ideal fit as (a more hyper) Frank. Think Crawford’s Spencer after too much coffee and you get the idea.
Writer/director Guy Unsworth has done a great job of bringing Raymond Allen’s sitcom to the stage, and if BBC bosses had any sense, they’d rush a new series into production with the same cast immediately. Susie Blake told me during our recent interview that she’d jump at the chance of recreating her role for TV, a medium crying out for good old fashioned sitcoms.
The retro vibe is hilarious, especially during a show-stopping staircase routine. (There are two that bring the house down for reference).
To sum it up in a line? One of the funniest stage shows of this or any other year.