THE Good Life, which started in 1975 and ran for three years and four series, has become one of the best loved television sitcoms of all time.
John Esmonde and Bob Larby created four characters who were indelibly personified by Felicity Kendall, Richard Briers, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington. Each of the 30 episodes lasted half an hour, crammed with wit, pathos, humour, energy and kindness.
Now Jeremy Sams has adapted the show for the stage, also directing this touring production which has opened in Bath and continues until early December.
It would have been impossible to re-create the magic that came from the original quartet and Fiery Angel hasn’t attempted it, instead nodding affectionately at the 70s with references to favourite products of the time. Most of the Bath audience made a collective sound of joyful recognition when a familiar bottle of Mateus Rose made its appearance.
The first act of the play is painfully slow, enlivened by Michael Taylor’s spinningly versatile set, which got its own round of applause. There is a deal of scene setting to do, for those who don’t remember the very first installment in which Tom Good, on his 40th birthday, makes the momentous decision to quit his job and go self-sufficient in what is locally known as Suburbiton, cheek by jowl neighbour of Royal Kingston upon Thames.
The story is of Tom and his wife Barbara and their next door neighbours, Tom’s work colleague Jerry and his pretentious wife Margo. As the prim, trim Good home takes on the straw, churns and rural paraphernalia of an urban farm, Margo’s aspirational snobbery increases.
After the interval, this new stage version gets a life of its own, in a brilliantly funny scene about the birth of a litter of piglets.
And the ending is the proper finale for a play of its time, a happy-ever-after scenario which evidently delighted the packed Bath audience.
Is it fair to compare the performances of this quartet, and the brilliant and multi-tasking Nigel Betts and Tessa Churchard, with the original performers? It isn’t, but that’s an impossible ask.
Preeya Kalidas starts off more Dorien than Keith’s Margo, and Sally Tatum is a more modern version of Kendall, lacking the daffiness but turning up the fiercely intelligent determination.
Dominic Rowan is perhaps closest to Eddington’s Jerry, but younger and less creepy. Rufus Hound tries for a fresh Tom, dumping the doldrums and uncertainty and replacing it with bumptious confidence.
There are enough beloved moments to keep the audience entertained, and some mach 3 changes of costume, accent and demeanor from Betts and Churchard that deserve awards for all concerned, on and off stage.