Manchester’s Lass O’Gowrie has established a reputation for delivering high quality adaptations of television classics. Doctor Who, Rising Damp and Coronation Street have all been performed over the last year and now it’s the turn of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads.
Originally broadcast in 1973, Whatever Happened to.. picks up five years on from the original Likely Lads and a chance encounter on a train leads to Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes) and Terry Collier (James Bolam) rekindling their friendship. But times have moved on, Bob has himself a
car second car(!), a job and an impending marriage. Demobbed Terry only has his memories to cling onto.
Acclaimed comedians John Cooper (Danny Pensive) and Sean Mason (Rising Damp, Hot Fat) take on the mantles of Bob and Terry in this adaptation of the episodes Strangers on a Train and Boys Night In. Wise choices, they show the push-pull relationship between the two men allowing Cooper and Mason to flex their comedic and, in the more reflective moments, ‘straight’ acting muscles. Jane Leadbetter plays Thelma, Bob’s wife to be in only a few brief scenes, but her exasperation at the ongoing antics of the lads is amusing to watch. Support is also given by Carly Tarett and Steven Hudson.
Both leads effortlessly step into their characters, and quickly make them their own creations rather than impersonations of Rodney Bewes and James Bolam. By the end, you might be forgiven for forgetting that Bewes and Bolam had ever played The Likely Lads such is the way Cooper and Mason take the scripts and run with them. Sean Mason’s bumbling and nervy Bob is the mirror image of John Cooper’s gruff yet laid-back and warm Terry. Both are gifted with comic timing yet can also carry the more touching moments, but most importantly – for this is what lies at the heart of what makes sitcoms work, both have crafted real characters. The clear off-stage friendship between the two makes the relationship between the lads all the more believable – and the pair are clearly having fun recreating and shaping these iconic roles for themselves.
Although the temptation solely must have been there to have brought the setting forward to modern times, keeping the 70’s setting was absolutely in keeping with the nostalgic feeling that Whatever Happened to.. generates and a shrewd decision by Director Brianne Edge. The cast are bedecked in 70s polyester fashions and meticulously researched props crop up thought the show. The musical influence is also evident in the plethora of well-chosen music to bridge scenes. There is also a sublime throwback during the two episodes which I won’t spoil here but will make you chuckle.
Whatever Happened to.. harks back to a more innocent time before mobiles, before computers, and back to when men would sit and talk about their problems. The central tenet of the series is just as enduring, if not more so, nowadays. Despite their differences, the warmth and affection between the two leads is clearly evident in well-written and well-constructed multi-layered scripts that explore the nature of friendship whilst also being very funny.
Whatever Happened to.. is essential viewing and thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in an alternative take on a 70’s classic, or someone looking for a laugh with some old friends this week. Don’t leave it until it’s too late to catch this slice of nostalgia. Now if only we can convince the Lass O’Gowrie to have 70’s prices for the duration as well…
The Fiction Stroker gives Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads Five Strokes out of Five:
Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads runs from the 5th to the 10th June at the Lass O’Gowrie, Charles St, Manchester. Performances are at 7.30pm until 9th June with a matinee performance at 4.00pm on the 10th. Tickets £6 and available from here or on the door if not sold out.
You can also catch Sean, Bron and John (as members of the ComedySportz troupe) in Let’s See What Happens on the last Saturday of every month at the Lass from 8pm.