BIG INTERVIEW Joe Pasquale on Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em: 'I can’t believe I’m falling down a flight of stairs eight times a week'

Sarah Earnshaw as Betty and Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em. Picture by Scott Rylander
Sarah Earnshaw as Betty and Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em. Picture by Scott Rylander
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Reviving a treasured TV show from the past can be a risky business. Just look what happened when the BBC brought back some of its most-loved sitcoms such as Porridge and Are You Being Served? for a short run in 2016.

To say the response was mixed would be, in some cases, charitable.

A big part of the problem was that some of those characters had become so heavily entwined with the actors who originally played them it's hard for audiences to imagine anyone else in the role.

It's for this reason that eyebrows have been raised at the prospect of an all-new show based on the '70s sitcom, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, which starred Michael Crawford as the beret-sporting and accident-prone Frank Spencer.

But stand-up, musical star and presenter Joe Pasquale has stepped into the role, which he admits has been somewhat daunting.

'It’s quite a scary thing,' he tells The Guide 'but I read a book a while ago called Feel The Fear And Do it Anyway by a woman called Susan Jeffer and it’s all about breaking the barrier of what you’re scared of and going ahead and doing it.

Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em, credit Scott Rylander

Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em, credit Scott Rylander

'So when I got offered the part a couple of years ago -– we’ve been working on it that long to get it to this point and to get the scripts right – we decided very early on not to do a bad impression of Michael Crawford. That’s the obvious route to take but it just wouldn’t work. 

'If you look at any of the stuff Michael did in his early days like Hello Dolly! with Barbra Streisand, and he did a film with Disney called Condorman, there is, as far as I’m concerned still a lot of Frank Spencer in them because there’s a lot of Michael in Frank Spencer. So if I went out and started doing that, it’s just a bad impression.

'The reason it was believable all those years ago is because there was so much of Michael in it, so the only way to do it again is for me to put a lot of myself into it.'

The idea for the whole project came from an accident – and the happy fact that the show's original writer is a fan of Joe's.

'The only reason we got away with it is because the original writer Raymond Allen is still alive and lives on the Isle of Wight, and he’s a big fan of mine, apparently.

'We got the idea to do Some Mothers when I was doing Spamalot [he played King Arthur] in the West End. There was a fan in the dressing room that wasn’t working, so I rewired it, plugged it in and it just blew it up in front of me.

'The director said to me: "You’re like a real life Frank Spencer",and a light bulb went on in his head: "Have you ever thought of doing that?" No... so he contacted Ray Allen. He said it depends on who you’ve got playing Frank. When he suggested me, he said he’d been buying tickets to my shows every year for 15 years  of course you can.

'It was one of those things that came together by serendipity.'

The new show has been heavily workshopped to make sure they get the tone and delivery right.

'At the last workshop we did a few months ago we had 70 invited guests of different age groups, producers, directors, casting agents. And the people who didn’t know the original had no frame of reference to compare it to Michael. They were asking me afterwards if I did the original TV show because they had no idea.

'And the people who did know the original said, Michael was brilliant, he’s a genius, but within five minutes you do forget that I’m doing that character as such, because I’m not doing it as Michael, which is the point.

'The only way to do it, is to do it for real.'

The show was famous for its outlandish stunts, which Crawford famously insisted on doing himself. But being confined to a studio, and living in more health and safety conscious times, replicating that effect has proved challenging.

'Obviously we can’t do the stuff he done – hanging off a cliff on the back of a Morris Minor, or the one everyone talks about is the roller skates where he's hanging on to the back of a bus. Because we’re in a different theatre every week you can’t do a roller skate gag – one week you’re in a 40ft space, the next week you’re in a 20ft space. But we do have a stunt co-ordinator coming in to make sure I don’t break my neck because there are a lot of stunts and with a six month tour there’s a lot of risk in there, a lot of breakages could happen if we don’t get it right.

'I can’t believe I’m falling down a flight of stairs eight times a week to do this.'

The physical side of it doesn't worry Joe, though.

'I always throw myself around in panto, I’ve broken my toe, broken my hand, dislocated a shoulder, all in panto, so I am known to be a bit accident prone, but that’s why we’ve got the stunt co-ordinator in.

'A lot of the shows I’ve done have had that physical element to them, from The Producers to Spamalot. I am a bit scared, not in a bad way though, I’m excited by it.'

While it carries the name and characters, the new show's creative team were keen to have it stand alone.

'We’ve looked at some of the other things people have done where they’ve bought old sitcoms back and put them onstage.

'They did Dad’s Army a few years back and it was four episodes – two episodes in the first half, two episodes in the second half. I’m not saying it wasn’t good or anything like that, but we wanted to steer away from that idea. We wanted it to be an original play, and this way, for those people who don’t know the original it could be Denise and Johnny, it doesn’t have to be Frank and Betty, because the script works on its own.

'We haven’t just thrown it together. You’ll laugh at it because it’s funny, not because it’s Frank and Betty.'

Making sure it's suitable for everyone to enjoy has been important as well.

'There aren’t many comedies out there you can take kids to, unless it’s primarily a kids show, it’s only really pantos. There’s hundreds of musicals you can take them to, but not comedies, they’ll get bored.

'But this you can take a seven year old to, or a 97 year old, and they’ll both find it funny. That’s what the TV show was too.'

And casting Frank's long-suffering wife Betty – originally played by Michele Dotrice – was also key. Here Sarah Earnshaw takes up the mantle.

'She’s been on board from day one. I worked with her on Spamalot where she was Lady of The Lake. I think that Betty’s a harder role to cast than Frank. You need someone that’s got that likability, that niceness that mumsy feel, but also that strength.

'She calls me The Unstoppable Moron. I tend to blow off on stage a lot as well, so she’ll have that look, oh no, you’ve done it again! No-one else knows, it’s just her., We have this great relationship on stage. You look each other in the eye and you know where they’re going with it, and that trust only builds up over time.'

Once the tour finishes in July, Joe doesn't know what's next. There's always the hope of a West End transfer, however, Joe's realistic:

'Everybody hopes that, but how long’s a piece of string? It depends how successful it is. It also depends if you can get a theatre because they’re all booked up so much in advance, so who knows?

'I’m just happy to get it on and get it out there, and let people see it. It’s such a bad world out there at the moment, that to have something that you can go to with your family and have a laugh is everything, I think.

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em is at The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth from March 20-24. Go to newtheatreroyal.com.