Transferring a TV comedy classic to the stage isn’t easy. Stage and screen have their own strengths and limitations and it takes passion, skill and a lot of care to make three half hour episodes of a show seamlessly flow into a two-hour stage presentation. Yet, that is precisely what producers, Alex and Nikki Wilson have done with the team of Red Herring Theatre and Newport Playgoers for their on-stage production of Blackadder II.
A vaudevillian style introduction opens the sequence of episodes with Blackadder (David Constant), Baldrick (Ricky Valentine) and Percy (Tom Dyer) introducing themselves to the audience. As Blackadder makes his cutting observations on Percy’s recital of Shakespeare (“shakes what?) and what a Welsh audience’s real idea of entertainment is, the laughter begins to break out around the theatre. Blackadder II has arrived on the stage!
Three of the original six Blackadder II episodes make the transfer for this stage adaptation comprising plenty of “cunning plans!”. In Bells, Blackadder is having ‘problems’ with his new manservant “Bob”, while in Head our hero is promoted to Lord High Executioner but aided by Percy and Baldrick, his own head ends up being on the block. Finally, in Beer a booze-up with Lord Melchett clashes with the arrival of Blackadder’s religiously obsessed relatives, putting a potential inheritance in jeopardy.
A set comprising Queen Elizabeth I throne room and Blackadder’s humble living quarters are the productions focal points. As the stories unfold, the actors utilise all available space and props, including Baldrick’s “censorship board” which covers up some of Bells slightly risqué moments!
Blackadder II’s characterisations are sublime. David Constant, Ricky Valentine and Tom Dyer become the total embodiments respectively of the self-assured Blackadder, his idiotic servant, Baldrick and silly friend, Percy. All three actors create a loving homage to the tv originals as the mannerisms, energy and slapstick comedy including juggling disembodied heads, punching faces and organising a farcical dinner event take place – all in true Blackadder style!
Blackadder II also has a very strong supporting cast, including Rebecca Rose as the squeaky but rather stubborn Queen Elizabeth I, Shane Rose-Gooder as the pompous Lord Melchett and Trish Murphy as the rather ditsy Nursie. All a joy to watch!
Other memorable performances come from Liz Keech, who gives a delightfully fun portrayal as girl turned boy manservant, Bob. Laurence Clarke, who raises a cheer as he swings on to the stage as the iconic Lord Flashheart. Becky Davies, who commands some of her own laughs as she attempts to confuse Blackadder as the Young Crone. And Clare Drewett, who as the ferocious Lady Whiteadder escalates further hilarity as she assaults both Blackadder and Percy at the dinner table.
Linking each episode are comical refrains of the Blackadder theme tune, individually performed brilliantly by Liz Keech, Shane Rose-Gooder, Ricky Valentine and Clare Drewett.
Blackadder at its best – cunning, ingenious and lots of fun. Don’t miss this hilarious homage to a tv classic, beautifully and hilariously adapted for the stage.
Blackadder II continues at the Dolman Theatre, Newport until October 19.