Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em

2nd to 6th April 2024

Guy Unsworth based on the TV series by Raymond Allen | Brewhouse, Burton upon Trent | Directed by John Bowness

Chaos rules in Burton upon Trent as stage version of the famous 70s sitcom brings Frank Spencer to life in all his accident-prone glory.

‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ is a sitcom institution and, in its heyday, attracted huge audiences of 25 million viewers, a figure impossible to imagine for any comedy in today’s television landscape. Our viewing habits and tastes, however, have changed in the five decades since Michael Crawford donned a jaunty beret and amused the nation in what would become one of the most iconic comedy roles of all time.

I admit to feeling a tad uncertain about Little Theatre Company’s latest choice ahead of visiting the Brewhouse. Would the 30-minute TV format work as a full-length play? Would the slapstick gags feel outdated? How could anyone other than Michael Crawford pull off the role of the hapless Frank Spencer?

My doubts were, for the most part, allayed the moment Leon Ratcliffe sidled onto stage in the instantly recognisable beret and beige raincoat. The success of this 2018 play, written by Guy Unsworth and based on Raymond Allen’s BBC TV series, relies on the performance of one actor and Ratcliffe is a superb Frank Spencer, capturing the movement and speech of the character perfectly. He is exactly what audiences will expect and could hardly be interpreted any other way given how synonymous the role is with Crawford.

Striking the right balance between bumbling buffoon and sensitive, well-meaning klutz, Ratcliffe rises to a range of physical challenges and, like Crawford, does all his own stunts. He may not roller-skate under a passing lorry but the show is packed with an ever-increasing number of accidents. Judging by the opening night laughter, audiences still have an enormous appetite for this very particular type of comedy. Expect burst pipes, collapsing staircases, slamming doors and smoking ovens. The pace, so critical in farce, is largely sustained throughout thanks to strong performances across the ensemble under the artistic direction of John Bowness.

Hannah Kirkpatrick is a beacon of calm in an ocean of chaos as Frank’s long-suffering but devoted wife Betty, providing the perfect foil to the walking disaster-area she is married to. The writing provides too few moments for us to see their loving connection but when it does, they nail it.

Phil Robinson is equally convincing in the roles of David Worthington and Terry Luscombe, a winning smile shining through in both performances. Vicky Fryer is the perfect mother-hen to daughter Betty in the role of Barbara Fisher until the prune wine kicks in and she descends into hilarious drunkenness. And there’s strong support from Pete Banton’s Father O’Hara and Joel Kirkpatrick’s Leslie Robin and Constable.

The two-tier set, the most ambitious I have seen at the Brewhouse, is impressively designed to encompass lounge, kitchen, staircase and Wendy-house/chicken coup. All credit to lighting and technical director Matt Bancroft for the execution and timing of the deliberate devastation on which so many of the gags rely.

Some aspects of the original show have not aged well. Frank’s camp assertion - ‘I’m a man’ -does not sit well with more enlightened modern ideas of masculinity and the scene in which, trouserless, he attempts to dislodge a pickled apricot stone from Father O’Hara’s throat by thrusting behind him, feels uncomfortable. The paper-thin plot, centring around Betty’s pregnancy and Frank’s botched attempt to become a magician, is ultimately less important than the central character, however, and here we are in safe hands.

An impressive production with a winning central performance.

‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave 'Em’ is playing at the Brewhouse in Burton upon Trent from 2nd to 6th April 2024.