Opinion: Sean Mason on bringing new life to a sitcom institution.
Two and a bit classic episodes of a much loved sitcom performed live. A North East institution in a small theatre above a North West pub. No pressure then.
From Tuesday, Bob Ferris and Terry Collier are reborn at the Lass O’Gowrie in Manchester. Original writer Dick Clement has kindly given permission to use the scripts and adapt classic episodes “Strangers On A Train” and “A Boys Night In”, with just a little bit from “End of An Era“ to wrap things up.
John Cooper, best known for his comedy character creation Danny Pensive, plays Terry Collier and I play Bob Ferris, directed by the wonderful Ms. Brainne Edge. Thelma Chambers is played by Jane Leadbetter and other parts by Stuart Hudson and Carly Tarett…
It’s been so much fun putting on this play. Any excuse to dress up like it’s 1973 and spend more time in a great pub; and, as an actor, to get scripts this good, with characters this rich, makes it an absolute joy to do.
We’re not trying to be Rodney Bewes and James Bolam. I’m at least attempting the accent, which for Sunderland born and raised John is no problem. But in all seriousness, it would be disrespectful to the original actors to do impersonations, and boring for an audience, so we’re doing our own take, going back to the original writing and exploring the rich and complex relationship between these two friends. They’re funny, sad, charming, hopeless blokes; a lot like me and John really.
And unlike original series actors Bewes and Bolam, I’m pretty sure we’ll still be on speaking terms by the end of it.
This’ll be the second time I’ve taken on an iconic sitcom role, having played Alan in the revival of the original play of Rising Damp last October, also at The Lass O’Gowrie. There’s still a lot of pressure. Alan’s character in Rising Damp is slightly different in the play than the later TV incarnation so reinterpreting the character beyond the definition of people’s memories was easier than it is here, using, as we are, transcripts of the original broadcasts.
The challenge is finding, and trying not to cross, the fine line between what the writing demands of the character and the tics and personalities of the original actors. It’s a fun challenge, though, and an enjoyable one.
It really does help that me and John are mates outside of the show as well. Though with me spending so much time at Brainne and John’s recently I feel like I‘ve started to turn into the Terry to his Bob and Thelma!
On playing Terry Collier, John says: “It’s great fun, but learning all the lines was hard work (the play is for the most part a two hander between Bob and Terry). I’ve always been a fan of James Bolam, even though we’re not aiming to replicate the TV series.
“Being a Mackem living in Manchester the whole ‘going back home’ theme that’s covered in the play is one I can relate to. The script is funny and warm, and there are a couple of ‘straight’ bits which I really love and am embracing in order to do justice to them as a performer.
“Terry Collier is a million miles from my character act Danny Pensive, and I’m relishing the challenge.”
Director Brainne Edge wants to reassure the audience that the show is an open invitation, saying: “We’ve worked hard to make sure this is accessible to people who haven’t seen the original show, picking episodes that focus on giving you everything you need to know about the characters.”
The scripts are so rich, and the dialogue so funny and full of warmth. There are so many layers to the writing, so many facets to the characters. We’re calling it the original Northern bromance.
So, if you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic, a bit of theatrical nostalgia, or just up for a laugh with a couple of old mates in a pub, then you might as well come and find out Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads.
Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads runs from June 5th-10th at the Lass O’Gowrie, Manchester, at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £6 and are available here.