An outbreak of fleas, a torn posh frock and a self-sustainable Christmas are brought to you in this triple bill of festive treats. From the same production team as Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads comes another 70’s classic – The Good Life.
For the uninitiated, The Good Life tells the story of a couple quitting the rat race in favour of a quieter and freer life. On Tom Good’s 40th birthday, he decides to quit his job and become self-sufficient. With the begrudging support of his wife Barbara, they rear their own animals, produce their own crops and generate their own electricity – much to the horror of their terribly middle class next-door neighbours Margo and Jerry.
Voted Britain’s 9th Greatest Sitcom recently despite the fact it poked fun of most of those watching it and regularly reaching audiences of 12 million plus, The Good Life was destined to become a classic. It made overnight stars of Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith, each later going on to star in their own vehicles. Light-hearted and good-natured, the chemistry between the four leads was critical to its success – but is the same true of this adaptation?
Fortunately, the chemistry between Mike Woodhead’s (Midnight) Tom and Jane Leadbetter’s (Talking Heads) Barbara is spot on. Woodhead’s physical comedy talents are put to superb use in some wonderfully farcical situations. Over the course of the three episodes, Woodhead proves his versatility and convincingly makes the audience believe in the unusual relationship between him and Barbara.
Felicity Kendal, was by all accounts a bit of a sex symbol for many, and Jane Leadbetter ably steps into these tomboy shoes. Leadbetter embodies the girl-next-door quality perfectly and will most likely have most men hot under the collar. She is particularly strong in the second episode as her femininity is called into question – especially in one iconic scene that if you haven’t seen I won’t spoil.
The three episodes chosen here are from later on in The Good Life’s run, and by this time Margo and Jerry are, thankfully, as much part of the furniture as the livestock on the farm. I say thankfully, as Rachel Newton completely inhabits Margo for herself with her wonderfully disdainful way that she tosses out the Good’s props from the room and the way she delivers her waspish one-liners will have you laughing out loud as she pecks on Matt Seber’s Jerry. The sheer looks of defeat at times on Seber’s face are worth the price of entry alone. Seber plays the play of hen pecked husband down to a tee, resplendent as he is in the latest 70s fashions!
Sean Mason, Marcus McMillan and Nancy Monaghan each make their mark in some short cameos. Mason (Halo Jones) particularly hits his mark as an officious infestation inspector. McMillan meanwhile like Matt Seber, can perfectly do the stung look after receiving a tirade of abuse from Margo. Monaghan proves to be a perfect foil for Mike Woodhead’s Tom despite barely having a word to say! How? You’ll have to find that out for yourself.
But such is the chemistry between the quartet of main cast that they are able to get away with these audacious situations. Adapted from the original scripts, Brainne Edge’s direction allows the writing to take centre stage. It is clear that this has been something of an ambition to complete, such is the reverence that the source material is treated with – and it is this attention to detail that makes it a success (for an example, just look at the photos on the superb flyer by the bar in the Lass!).
The only time that events falter for me was the sheer amount of scene changes – the time some of them took and the amount of props requiring transferring at times taking me out of the action. Although the linking music is appropriately 70’s in style, the actors rushing about multiple times is distracting, and a shame in what is an otherwise accomplished production. Indeed, one such long scene change to set up a dinner scene was only rescued by Barbara’s increasing aggressiveness in slamming doors and props onto the table.
Nonetheless, this adaptation of The Good Life is not only excellent value for your money, but a hark back to more innocent times with some genuinely funny writing from Esmonde and Larbey, solid laughs and an accomplished cast. A perfect Christmas comedy treat.
The Fiction Stroker gives The Good Life four strokes out of five:
The Good Life runs until December 9 at The Lass O’Gowrie, Charles St, Manchester. Tickets (which are selling out fast!) and times available from WeGotTickets. Please note, the matinee advertised on Saturday 8 December is cancelled. The Saturday night performance is unaffected.