Stage adaptations of television comedy series have a chequered history , but when the script is as well written as this, by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, the company has a head start , and so it proved for this production on the opening night in a year which marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
Black Adder helped define the careers of some of the finest comic acting talent of a generation, producing performances which in turn established some much loved characters, and popularised certain phrases. Playing such well known characters, and playing out familiar lines in much loved scenes, is a daunting task ,but one which Dudley Little Theatre took in its stride.
As the lights went down we were invited to “pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile”. An invocation which an appreciative audience was happy to endorse as the cast marched through the auditorium.
Talented and enthusiastic, they were well up for the challenge with an engaging performance from James Silvers as the over-enthusiastic Lieutenant George, Andrew Rock offered a different and nuanced Captain Darling, and Tony Stamp was a winning, world-weary, Captain Blackadder. The firing squad scene was the funniest of the night as Blackadder desperately tries to escape his fate after the most disastrous Court- Martial defence in history.
The television characters were not replicated as imitations, and were all the better for it – the script was faithfully replicated, but the interpretations added something new. Andrew Rocks’ Darling was particularly good when faced with being sent to the front line, tough and vulnerable in the twitch of an eye.
Although the lines, and punch-lines are well known, the humour was fresh, and poignant. The dim-witted Baldrick, was affectionately portrayed by Ellis Daker, whose cunning plans always fell short. Gareth May excelled as the pompous, myopic, General Melchett.
Under the direction of Rebecca Gee, the story moved briskly amongst a simple, but effective set. The scenes were interspersed with period songs, adding atmosphere and colour to the evening.
The show incorporated three episodes of the TV series, culminating in the final episode named “Goodbyeee”, in which our heroes, having finally accepted their duty, go “over the top” into No Man’s Land ,their slow motion charge to oblivion effectively reimagining the television finale.
A century on, Black Adder has become part of the popular consciousness of World War One, for some, controversially. What struck me about the script and production was its humanity. I suspect that a German could have written something similar from the opposite trenches. It never sneers or snarls, instead it smiles in the face of adversity and death.
Black Adder Goes Forth runs until 17th May , a faithful and energetically produced production.