Perhaps predictably, I have anything but a lovely jubbly time at Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
“You can’t whack the big pineapple”
Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it was never a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools and Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.
And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’. I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with injokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre).
Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan’s book is an exercise in fan service, stitching together many of the iconic comic sequences from the 20-odd years of the show and dressing them up with an origin story kind of plot. The people around me loved it. And it was a heartening sight to see the Theatre Royal Haymarket full of people who wouldn’t necessarily be booking to come to a musical (the last one the guys next to me had seen was Starlight Express!).
Sadly though, this is no great shakes at all as a new musical. For one, the score is peppered with 80s jukebox hits, relying on the cheery warmth of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ to take us into the interval really feels like a cheat. And of the new songs, few stand out at all even with strong performances from the likes of Dianne Pilkington’s Raquel.
And whether you get the injokes or not, there’s no mistaking the humour’s decided reliance on a very dated mode of comedy, situating us thoroughly in the 80s. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it just feels lazy, not allowing for any sophistication to creep in, to wit the fever dream which mocks what Peckham has become today (seriously, all jokes about coffee shops need to stop now).
Sometimes a show just isn’t for you and this was definitely one of those occasions for me. Had I that emotional connection with Only Fools and Horses, I might well have been more inclined to forgive this musical’s shortcomings. As I don’t – what a plonker – they ended up standing out more in Caroline Jay Ranger’s production here.