Review | The Good Life at Chichester Festival Theatre: 'Lost the original's charm'

An unlikely addition to today’s reboot culture is a stage adaptation of The Good Life.

By James Butler
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 9:36 am
The Good Life. from left: Preeya Kalidas, Rufus Hound, Sally Tatum, Dominic Rowan
The Good Life. from left: Preeya Kalidas, Rufus Hound, Sally Tatum, Dominic Rowan

And with the greatest respect to the ’70s BBC comedy – of which I’m a fan, I should add – it’s not like the public have been crying out for it.

So why has it now been revived onstage?

Perhaps because the story of a suburban couple embracing self-sustainability resonates in today’s eco-conscious era?

I’m afraid after several hours I’m still trying to think of a good reason this exists.

Yes, it had moments of fun, but it did not know what it wanted to be: a modern-day ‘reboot’ or a nostalgic pastiche.

Take the plot, for example.

Several of the show’s most famous storylines are stitched together.

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In the midst of a mid-life crisis, Tom Good quits the rat race and with the support of his wife Barbara turns their Surbiton home into a farm, much to the ire of their snobbish neighbours and friends Margot and Jerry Leadbetter.

To this is added Margot’s farcical turn as Maria in a doomed am-dram production of the Sound of Music and the traumatic birth of one of the Good’s piglets.

But most definitely not in the original was the eco-couple smoking a massive spliff from a pig farmer, who also drugged a cake gifted to Margot and Jerry for good measure – leading to a serious case of the munchies at a dinner party.

Maybe I run the risk of sounding as prudish as Margot herself, but the TV show’s appeal was its gentle humour, such as its nudging wink at the sexual tensions between the two couples rather than going full Carry On.

But in the process of trying to make the show ‘relevant’ to modern audiences it lost that charm.

The acting also suffered from attempting to impersonate the TV characters.

The shadow of Penelope Keith’s towering performance as Margot loomed over Preeya Kalidas’ mannered rendition, whose accent was so laboured at times that it had an almost Caribbean lilt to it.

Dominic Rowan played Jerry with less sarcasm and more subservience, to his detriment, and Sally Tatum’s overwrought attempt to replicate Felicity Kendal’s charming banter came off as annoying.

Of the main quartet, the only performance that resisted comparison was Rufus Hound’s Tom.

His ease onstage made me feel I was in safe hands – which was actually put to the test when an important prop went missing.

To keep things ticking over while the cast searched for it, he broke the fourth wall and did an impromptu stand-up set addressing the crowd, which perhaps tellingly drew some of the biggest laughs of the night.

And while I’m sticking in the knife, I should add that the staging was also a bit of a fail.

The revolving walls were meant to alternate between the neighbours’ houses – but on more than one occasion the wall of one home merged with the other.

Maybe this was an artistic choice to replicate the drug-addled brains of the Goods during their weed-fuelled bender.

But sadly I don’t think it was.

Look, theatre doesn’t need to be highbrow, it just needs to be entertaining.

And sadly, all this production left me wanting was to binge the box sets at home.

Until December 4.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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