Will Smith reviews Blackadder Goes Forth at the Barn Theater in Welwyn Garden City.
Almost 40 years ago, we met Edmund Blackadder in the first of four series of the classic television sitcom.
Blackadder goes ahead is probably the best known, winning two BAFTAs.
The last episode, Goodbyeaired in November 1989, is often considered the finest finale in television comedy history, and it was one of four episodes featured in the Barn production.
Taking on a British comedy staple will always be a brave choice.
Audiences will not only experience the stories and characters created by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, but also the gags, the delivery and even the direction.
Plus, there’s the typical “television to stage” challenge of recreating multiple locations in a limited space, especially true for a location such as the Grange.
However, Keith Thompson has experience in this area, having directed another classic sitcom, daddy’s armyin 2008, is also set in wartime, although England in World War II rather than a trench in Flanders in 1917.
Performance areas were cleverly created not only for the trench and the dugout, but also for a castle, a field hospital, a courtroom and two prison cells.
It all worked well, although there were inevitable spacing and line-of-sight issues, especially if multiple actors were in a single scene.
Character-wise, no one looked or sounded particularly like their TV counterparts, but in many cases the expressions, mannerisms, and essence were captured well.
Paul Russell expertly directed the production as Captain Blackadder, desperately trying to escape the trenches only to be thwarted by circumstance, incompetence, or both.
His outstanding comedic timing deservedly earned a heap of laughs from the nearly sold-out audience.
Andrew Read played the long-suffering Baldrick, delivering a few gags well.
Occasional pacing issues didn’t stop the quality of the writing from passing.
Steve Deaville was the show’s closest characterization, playing the ever-optimistic George. Steve’s excellent facial expressions demonstrated just how effective non-verbal comedy can be.
Captain Darling was played convincingly by Carl Westmoreland, his scenes with Blackadder and Melchett among the highlights of the evening.
Newcomer Andy Mills invests General Melchett with pompous dominance.
Jessica Wall impressed as Nurse Mary, with Stephanie Cotter the object of lust for Lord Flashheart, energetically played by Alfie Hart.
Of the remaining cameo parts, the firing squad delivered its comedy well and Mike Smith had fun as Brigadier Smith. Adam Dryer made a hilarious Baron Von Richthofen.
Sometimes the cast members spoke too fast or laughed, which meant that some jokes were sadly missed. I saw opening night, so it likely got better as the cast got used to audience reactions.
I was interested to see how the final scene of Goodbye would be staged, being an iconic piece in television history. There was a distinct change in momentum as the slapstick and gags died down and those preparing for the final push resigned themselves to their fate.
The final tableau and the lack of an encore was powerful, although I wish the house lights hadn’t come on immediately and the auditorium doors had remained closed, just for a moment, to allow for a little of public reflection.
I must salute the superb staging by Peter and Kris Moore, as well as the magnificent costumes, organized by Anne Mawer and Anne-Marie Austin. These are the kinds of details that regularly put the Grange ahead of other local bands.
Blackadder goes ahead successfully walks the delicate line between the humor of the British gallows and the sacrifices made by so many.
An entertaining show that continues until Saturday, although I believe those remaining are sold out.