The Good Life 'would've been funnier if it had been set now'
- Credit: Cambridge Arts Theatre
Penelope Keith probably wasn’t meant to be the star of the hit 1970s television sitcom, The Good Life – but she was.
She was the woman next door but she completely stole the show. Pretty soon, the audience, which at one point averaged 16 million, were just waiting for her character Margo’s reactions to whatever the other three did.
Nigel Betts, I dare say, playing four supporting roles – with a different demeanour and regional accent for each - was not intended to be the stand out performance of this stage adaptation but he absolutely is.
Coming on stage as Tom and Jerry’s boss at the office, the pigman, the policeman and finally Dr Joe, It’s the funniest part of the show.
This is the first time that The Good Life, a beloved sitcom, which premiered in 1975 and ran for four series, has been adapted for the stage. (Episodes are still being shown on BBC 4 – if you want to see the original).
The premise of the series was that Tom and Barbara Good (played originally by Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall – and here on stage by Rufus Hound and Sally Tatum) decide to give up being employees and become self-sufficient in their semi in Surbiton, Surrey.
“Why” asks Tom should they go on “Doing work we don’t really like to pay for things we don’t really need.”
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They start growing their own veg, keeping farm animals and trying to generate their own electricity.
It’s a tough challenge to recreate this brilliantly successful series on stage. The original foursome: Penelope Keith, Felicity Kendall, Richard Briers and Paul Eddington, absolutely nailed it.
The stage version doesn’t have the wit of the television show, neither in writing nor in comic timing – even though parts of the storyline are taken from the original.
Perhaps it would have been funnier if it had been set now, if two different people had decided to go completely green - do without the internet, a car and Facebook and go low carbon – abandoning plastic and anything which came wrapped in it.
The Good Life was of its time and set in its time. That wouldn’t have worked either if it had tried to hark back to the 1920s. Fifty years is a long stretch.
The Good Life is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 13.