Darlington Civic Theatre
It's a good time to visit the theatre; there's plenty going on. My latest leap in my quest to be entertained took me to Darlington's quaint Civic Theatre for the opening night of 'Porridge'.
The classic mid-1970s series transferred very well to the stage. This must be partly due to the direct involvement of the original writers, Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement.
The show was extremely well cast, with Shaun Williamson as Fletcher excelling in the central role.
The evening started with a warning, barked out by on off-stage Mr MacKay, warning one and all that electronic recording devices and telephones would be confiscated if used.
That announcement was followed by a more familiar one:
'Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court. You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner.'
The first scene introduces a set of prisoners set to endure their first spell at Slade prison. Young Godber is taken under Fletch's wing, and thus begins a remarkable - and highly amusing - story of prison life.
The first half of the show takes the famous fixed boxing match at its central plot device and after the interval there is a storyline based around a freshly dug tunnel and an escape attempt.
All of the regulars are present and correct, including the wishy-washy Mr Barrowclough, privileged prisoner Grouty, the slow 'Bunny' Warren and the veteran Blanco.
The set was magnificent, with stairs and cells turned into courtyards and common areas with just a couple of deft shifts of scenery.
There is only one fault and that is the fact that the script carries very few surprises for anyone familiar with the TV series. The plots are such classics that they remain very memorable. Some audience members were even whispering the punchlines of the gags from time to time. Nevertheless, the laughs were still in plentiful supply and the energy of the terrific cast ensured that there were very few gaps between guffaws.
This show will definitely appeal to fans of the TV version and it gives newcomers a chance to catch up with a real classic.