Blackadder Goes Forth
Chapter Art Centre, Cardiff, Tue 13 Nov
First aired on the BBC in 1989, Blackadder Goes Forth remains one of the nation’s most loved sitcoms. So Everyman Theatre’s decision to adapt it for the stage, as part of a double bill with Journey’s End to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, was a gamble fraught with danger: after all, how do you do justice to perfection?
For a start, the majority of the audience, I would imagine, are not only familiar with the plots and the jokes but also with the minutiae of delivery and staging. In the circumstances, then, it’s understandable that the company have chosen to cleave to the original, offering up faithful performances of four of the series’ six episodes.
And then there’s the fact that the characters are indissolubly associated in the mind with some of our finest comic actors: Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie. Pity poor Ceris Jones in particular, charged with the unenviable task of filling the enormous boots of both Stephen Frost (as excitable head of the firing squad Corporal Jones) and the late Rik Mayall (as priapic pilot Lord Flashheart). Chris Williams takes the part of the sharp-witted titular hero, delighting in Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s way with similes and metaphors, but it’s Phil Gerkin (put-upon, malodorous wretch Baldrick) and Mat Hole (air-headed, boundlessly cheery toff George) who steal the show.
Major Star and Private Plane are comic romps, the former allowing Hole to camp it up in drag and the latter an old-school riot of slapstick and sexual innuendo. But beneath all the pratfalls and knob gags, and especially in final episode Goodbyeee, lies a sobering depiction of the boredom and absurdity of life in the First World War trenches and a searing, politically charged critique of an Establishment responsible for the senseless, futile deaths of ordinary men who could barely comprehend what they were fighting for.
The series’ unbearably poignant conclusion – Blackadder and company all scythed down by machine-gun fire attempting the Big Push into No Man’s Land, the site of battle then becoming a poppy field – is translated both simply and effectively into a vase of poppies on a stool, spotlighted in the otherwise darkened auditorium. The fact that the actors don’t reappear as per convention to take the audience’s applause makes the point even more starkly.
Moving us to laughter but also sombre reflection, this is a fine tribute – both to the series and to those who lost their lives.
words BEN WOOLHEAD
Blackadder Goes Forth is at Chapter until Sat 17 Nov. Tickets: £12/£10. Info: www.chapter.org