Leonard Rossiter is a hard act to follow but Stephen Chapman’s quite brilliant impression of the actor goes a long way in the success of the stage version of TV hit comedy Rising Damp.
I can’t imagine how much research and watching of boxed sets went in to capturing every nuance of seedy landlord Rupert Rigsby but they’re all there – the familiar gestures, the twitches, the stuttering, clothed in the moth-eaten uniform of one of television’s greatest comic creations.
Back in 2004 Rising Damp was voted by the public as the top ITV sitcom of all time so it’s disappointing to see so few people at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre last night for one of the funniest comedies the venue has staged.
Making a stage adaptation of a popular sitcom is always a bit of a gamble but in this case Rising Damp started out as a play – called The Banana Box – before being rewritten for television.
But can you really replicate the talents of Rossiter, Richard Beckinsale, Don Warrington and Frances De La Tour and do justice to Eric Chappell’s scripts?
Actually, yes you can.
Emmerdale’s Stephen Chapman is priceless as the sweaty, seedy, Rigsby who has the hots for tenant, Miss Jones; Paul Morse, hidden under a pair of atrocious long-haired wigs, beautifully captures Beckinsale’s wide-eyed innocence; Chris Charles is an admirable stand-in for Don Warrington and Airlie Scott is the image of a young De La Tour.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the original TV shows were 45-years ago and younger generations probably have little idea what a superbly crafted sitcom it was.
But they’re missing a real treat. The Comedy Theatre Company has already proven its credentials with stage shows of Birds Of A Feather, dinnerladies and Keeping Up Appearances.
Without wanting to sound ancient TV sitcoms have never been as funny as that golden era of the 1970s and Rising Damp, on stage or screen, was one of the best.
In today’s PC climate the show may walk a fine line over the issue of racism.
Tenant Philip is black and the issue totally throws Rigsby who may not be entirely racist but he is ignorant and parochial and, as a result, prejudiced.
But Philip always has the upper hand, playing Rigsby at his own game and inventing an exotic persona for himself that gives him kudos with his suspicious landlord.
We’re in a shabby boarding house and new tenant, the naive first year medical student, Alan, is shocked by the state of the attic bedroom.
“There’s water running down this wall!” he exclaims.
Rigsby scoffs. “How can you have rising damp up here? We’re miles above sea level!”
The story, episodes from the TV series, involves nothing more than a wonderful interaction between Rigsby, the sexually frustrated Ruth Jones, the quiet desperation of church-going Alan, and the
It is beautifully played by all four actors and a testament to the quality of the original writing that it still makes you laugh 45 years later.
Rising Damp is on at The Grove tonight. Go along and enjoy the nostalgia.
Remaining Tour Dates:
July 14-16, Floral Pavilion, New Brighton
July 17-19, Playhouse Theatre, Weston Super Mare.