Review: Porridge, New Theatre, Cardiff

What a coup for producer Ed O Driscoll when devising the stage show of the classic television sitcom Porridge that he received the full co-operation of the show’s creators Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais. Clement and Le Frenais insisted on writing the full show themselves and from the moment Norman Stanley Fletcher steps onto the stage to the gloomy backdrop of HM Slade prison to the voiceover of a judge condemning him to five years behind bars, the laughs just keep coming.

As Ronnie Barker brought the character of old lag Fletcher to life on television, former EastEnder Shaun Williamson does the same for the character on stage. Williamson never impersonates Barker, instead he goes for the lovable mischievous essence of the character that endeared Fletcher to millions back in the 1970s and by doing so delivers a convincing and frequently humorous portrayal.

Daniel West as first time inmate Lennie Godber and Nicholas Lumley as the strict Mr MacKay, provide excellent support. West’s portrayal of Fletcher’s naïve cellmate is reminiscent of the late Richard Beckinsale, while Lumley catches the true spirit of Fulton MacKay’s original Mr MacKay down to the military stride and the twitch of the neck.

A fixed boxing match, the theft of Mr Barrowclough’s bike, the cancellation of Christmas and Fletcher’s bungled attempt to get admitted into the infirmary, are only a few scenarios revisited from the original television series in the show’s two-hour presentation.

By far the best stage interpretation of a classic television show I have seen, this stir of Porridge is worth doing time for. It continues to run at the New Theatre until Saturday.

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