Following on from the acclaimed Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, Manchester’s Lass O’Gowrie tackles another of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’s creations – Porridge. A new cast has been assembled to bring two episodes – “Poetic Justice” and “Rough Justice” to the Lass as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe. Fletcher is annoyed to find he has a new cell mate, but when it turns out to be the Right Honourable Judge Stephen Rawley – the very judge who sent Fletcher down, suddenly an opportunity or two arises to make life more bearable..
The assembled cast do very well to capture the flavour of the original piece and the characters without directly mimicking Barker, Beckinsale et al. Unlike, the adaptation of the Likely Lads, this, as a more ensemble piece is perhaps more difficult to capture and recreate – but I think it is testament to the team that this adaptation works and is allowed to be its own distinct version of Porridge rather than Porridge’s Greatest Hits.
Perhaps the hardest job goes to Ian Curley who has to step into the shoes of Ronnie Barker as Fletcher. Pleasingly, the transition is flawless and he does not disappoint. Curley is not doing an impression of Ronnie Barker here, but instead crafting his own take on Fletcher’s iconic character. His Fletcher retains some of the mannerisms and cheeky glint, yet retains a controlled swagger, a 21st century cheeky chappie at large in HMP Slade.
Sean Mason’s faithful Godber balances the right amount of optimism and naivety that made Richard Beckinsale so endearing in the original. Bearing impeccable comic timing, Mason yet again shows how versatile an actor he is.
Although only briefly in these episodes, Neil Bell and Matt Lanigan as Mackay and Barraclough respectively provide a entertaining double act as the famous prison officers. Mackay’s trademark maniacal authoritarian nature is present and correct, and there is a hilariously comic moment where he becomes unstuck towards the end.
Phil Dennison’s Judge is the most interesting character in the episodes – stripped of his cosy golf games and finding himself the wrong side of the system, Rawley is a fish out of water. An eminently watchable actor, Dennison is the star of the piece. His character had me going from feeling sorry for him to rooting for him as he forges relationships with the prisoners to wanting to throttle him with the space of minutes upon his justification for the news he receives towards the end of the play.
Dave Dutton, John Bulwich and Jarreau Benjamin stand out as supporting prisoners Warren, Harris and McLaren respectively. Dutton’s endearing Warren gets some nice interplay with Mason’s Godber and Curley’s Fletcher at the beginning of the second episode whilst Bulwich and Benjamin play two prisoners with such a degree of menace and stage presence that you’re not sure whether you would want to encounter them outside or inside the prison, yet also being the comic fall-guys retain a sense of humour.
There are modern references and props throughout the episodes, and acts as a nice counterpart to the very firmly retro Likely Lads adaptation in June. The modern feel makes it distinct from the original, and highlights the timelessness of the writing – gags about prison overcrowding and cuts just as cutting in the 70’s as they are now.
Director Colin Connor has tightly assembled his crew creating a real sense of camaraderie between the inmates and with a healthy attention to detail, Porridge is yet another successful adaptation by The Lass O’Gowrie who have established a healthy reputation for respecting and carefully adapting such iconic properties. Given the variable state of television comedy at present, it is little wonder that writing such as Clement’s and La Frenais’ has endured and can appeal across the ages.
Also, as a quick sidenote to finish on, but when entering the theatre of the Lass, you might possibly get a surprise from a certain Director/prisoner and two certain prison guards..! It is this attention to detail, and effort to go the extra mile providing an immersing experience that continues to make The Lass O’Gowrie and production teams who stage there a success.
The Fiction Stroker gives Porridge – LIVE four strokes out of five: