Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Marissa Burgess

Given it’s largely a simple two-hander, it's surprising to learn that the classic Seventies sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? has only been attempted as a live play once before when – over-ambitiously – the entire first series was condensed into one show.

Instead this production, directed by lecturer and performer Brainne Edge, takes just two (and a bit) key episodes, playing them back-to-back.

The original series was a follow-up to the black and white Sixties sitcom The Likely Lads, catching up with Terry Collier (James Bolam) and Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes) five years on. Once both single and socially on an equal footing, now Bob is enjoying the financial perks of white collar work and is preparing to marry the prissy Thelma. Meanwhile Terry has been demobbed from the army and is travelling back to his native Newcastle where he encounters his childhood friend.

The play opens with the first TV episode Strangers On A Train, where they reunite accidentally on an initially dark train heading back to the North East from London. Then we jump to Boys' Night In, Series One's penultimate episode to look in on Bob's 'stag' night spent playing Ludo and drinking cocoa.

Given the pivotal nature of Bob and Terry's relationship, there's a lot riding on the performances of rookie actor, and sometime Comedy Sportz improviser Sean Mason as Bob and comedian John Cooper as Terry. Cooper, though he often appears on the comedy scene in character as Danny Pensive, also lacks stage acting experience.

But in this lovely little space above the Lass O'Gowrie pub, both pull it off with aplomb. Mason mimics Bob's smug, almost sing-song, intonations while Cooper's Terry punctures Bob's pomposity with his dry asides.

Sticking close to the original Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais script, they can't go far wrong, and Mason and Cooper do justice to the tightly written dialogue.

In the opening episode Bob fills Terry in on what he's missed while serving abroad: their friend bought a newsagent’s, Bob had his appendix out and Mrs Morris had a birthday... that seems to be the highlight. But on hearing that topless waitresses came and went, having not ‘caught on,’ Terry responds wistfully, ‘I wish I'd been around to see 'em not catch on.’

Later the pair sit side-by-side on Bob's double bed, on the night before his wedding, sharing laddish fantasies that alternate between football and girls – nicely played scene in which the rapport between the characters is shared by the actors. Their 'double act' of course is punctuated by the cuckoo fiancé Thelma (Jane Leadbetter), who swivels from looks of adoration to grimaces of disapproval.

It's surprising, too, how the scripts endure. The laddish nature of the pair when you've got mags like Nuts and Loaded on the newsagent shelves still rings true, as do the issues of social mobility: Terry's distrust and ribbing of Bob's middle-class ways - are still played out in pubs when working class boy/girl done good returns home for a pint with old friends. The stuffed shirt with ideas above his station reveling in his new comfortable life, though perhaps not as common now as it was in the Seventies, is still a familiar figure.

But despite it all their friendship endures and the production serves to remind us of this with the addition of a scene from the End Of An Era episode at the end of the play, where Terry says his metaphorical goodbye to his now-married friend in his best man speech.

Though still relevant, it is nevertheless also a glorious nostalgia trip; a flashback to the Seventies for those of us who were there and a slice of recent history for those that weren't. There's great attention to detail in the costumes, garish print dresses, Bob's beige cardigan, polyester slacks and slip-on shoes.

To mark the end of each scene, the darkest recesses of iTunes have been plundered for tracks by the likes of Gilbert O'Sullivan and Dawn, and to separate the two episodes three classic Seventies adverts are shown. I won't tell you which ones, you'll just have to go and see.

Review date: 7 Jun 2012
Reviewed by: Marissa Burgess
Reviewed at: Manchester Lass O’Gowrie

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