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Playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 29 April 2023
The popularity of Only Fools and Horses stretches far further than even the iconic Trotters Robin Reliant can get to. The hit 80/90s British Comedy has die hard fans all over the world and its hard not to find a double digit TV channel looping re-runs.
A musical, apparently started by the creator of the show John Sullivan before he passed in 2011, was somewhat inevitable. John’s son Jim collected up the notes, ideas and a single song and developed the material into the high-budget show we see at the beautiful Theatre Royal Haymarket today.
The series totals to more than 40 hours of television and the plot feels distinctly like it tries to fit this all into 2.5 hours. Focusing mostly on the romance between Raquel and Del Boy, the story veers sharply into a deluge of stories including Rodney and Cassandra getting married, Boycie and Marlene trying for a baby, the Driscoll brothers out to punish Derek and other scenes and songs designed to hit nostalgic tropes.
After a wordy cluster of opening scenes, the songs come thick and fast, seemingly ramping up in frequency as the show unravels. Some are vivacious and hilarious, particularly ‘A Bit of a Sort’ and the ear worm theme tune. Others, however, should have simply been cut – random, flimsy and aimless. There is an annoying tendency for a lot of the lyrics to not rhyme – although acceptable in some circumstances, these particular numbers stick out as unpleasant, jarring moments in comparison to better written songs. A clear musical style is never really established.
Tom Bennett as Del Boy is spirited and authentic – he warms into the character over the course of the performance, making it his own. Ryan Hutton as Rodney is remarkable in his professional debut and Paul Whitehouse as Grandad is adorably dynamic. The entire company exude respect for the source material in their approach and, rather pleasingly, don’t hesitate to put their own spin on things. Oscar Conlon-Morrey particularly deserves a mention for his portrayal of the Dating Agent and other varying parts, with which he makes hilarious and notable in their own way – his stage presence spills over with star quality.
It is a shame that the women in the cast are under-used, Pippa Duffy as Cassandra is only in a few scenes and Dianne Pilkington’s charm as Raquel is palpable but under explored by the script.
Liz Ascroft’s turnstile set – including The Nag’s Head, Rodney and Del’s front room complete with infamous cocktail bar and a love-letter-to-London style high street – is intricate and satisfying. In fact, the design of the show overall captures the antiquity of the TV series with love and credibility, down to every prop and costume.
It is often a symptom of adaptation shows that an affection for the content blinds the editing process. In a devoted attempt to cover every iconic character, moment, relationship, costume, ‘bon jour’ and ‘mange tout’, Only Fools and Horses the Musical never really establishes a story. It is more like a musical ‘Best Bits’ special with around an hour of dodgy material screaming out to be cut. This being said, the evening was incredibly enjoyable and some-what worth it just to see Derek Trotter do ‘that’ bar fall.
Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten