These were some big wellies to fill. As we were thrust into the story in the ‘Country Life’ kitchen of the Goods, I had a wave of instant familiarity and comfort, like I had come to visit old friends. The sitcom series The Good Life by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde was as defining for British television as Patrick Marber was for theatre and this simple story of middle-class-suburbanites-gone-green resonated as much in the 70’s as it does now in our ever-changing view of our world and our places in it.
This stage adaptation had quite the gumption. Written and directed by Jeremy Sams, with numerous UK touring productions under his belt, his vision and voice brought these iconic characters and the sincerity of the self-sufficiency legacy to the stage with flair. Though many of the favourite lines and scenarios from the show were represented verbatim on stage, this play had its own joy with some excellently farcical moments within the show including a drunken party with ‘Sir’ (and his life-of-the-party-Felicity) and the touching commotion saving the baby piglet. Though even if you’ve never seen the sitcom, this play will surly take you into their heartfelt world with open and muddy arms.
As with any good adaptation, it becomes very difficult not to compare performances of the actors then and now. The astounding chemistry between the original sitcom’s stars was the recipe for its success after all. Here, comedian and performer Rufus Hound took on the masterful Tom Good with surprising ease and authenticity. Dominic Rowan too, stole the show with his perfect Jerry Leadbetter on many occasions with a charisma that often seemed to carry the scenes through. Preeya Kalida’s Margo was as enlightening as she was resolute. Penelope Keith’s BAFTA winning Margo was a national treasure, and though of course separating Keith’s idioms and accent from Margo would be unimaginable, Kalida’s self-assured portrayal brought real fondness and candour to the character. Another star-making role, Barbara Good, often deemed synonymous with the indescribably lovable actress Felicity Kendall, was taken on by actress, comedian and writer Sally Tatum. It’s hard not to mimic the mannerisms of the character, and Tatum did a fine job in her own interpretation, though fell prey to a few effort-full moments, likely more visible next to Hound’s often more nonchalant Tom.
Some scene-defining quick-changes by actors Nigel Betts and Tessa Churchard as the highly memorable secondary characters made for some cackling laughs and warm reprises too. With a simple and engaging rotating set between the two opposing living areas of the Goods and Leadbetters, the changes made for some delightful mid-scene gags along with a hilariously terrifying goat, Geraldine, appearing like Chucky with a wide grin from a serving hatch.
This generous helping of Pea-Pod Burgundy and a handful of innuendos takes an updated look on the two couples lives while remaining true to the show’s message. Escaping the rat-race never looked so appealing. Catch it before it escapes and eats Margo’s geraniums.
It’s on at The Oxford Playhouse until Saturday 6th of November.