So, I finally get to complete the trilogy (of four), assuming that’s is that nobody ever does the first series, which looks unlikely. As a big fan of the Richard Curtis/Ben Elton series it was something I was very much looking forward to. Once again directed by Colin Aldous after his very enjoyable production of Blackadder II in 2016, it would appear he is also a devotee.
The set by Mike Ward, who was also the producer of this show by Leighton Buzzard Drama Group, was certainly an elaborate sight to behold. Full of detail with the rear half of upstage right being General Melchett’s headquarters and upstage left being the underground dugout for the front-line soldiers. Brought on to downstage right on trucks was a mobile prison cell and cell door for the first episode, Private Plane and for the second episode, Private Hospital, against the wall downstage right was the bed for the romantic liaison between Blackadder and Nurse Mary, with the clever use of hospital screens providing the backdrop to the rest of that episode downstage left. The front drop of the stage to the auditorium was lined with sandbags and barbwire with a duckboard to serve as the trenches themselves. A great deal of work had obviously gone into its design and construction and that certainly paid off handsomely. I have never been backstage at the Library Theatre but I imagine the space certainly must have been limited as with such a well worked set, entrances looked tight as, for example I noted when our lone damsel was carried off she had to be put back on her feet in order to exit the stage. Clearly every square inch had been cleverly used. Finally, a full length Cyc curtain was drawn across to allow the use of video at various times (more about that later). But all in all this was a pretty impressive set by any standards.
Lighting and effects by Dave Miles and Emma Ayre lit this elaborate set extremely well from the dingy dugout to the opulence of Melchett’s HQ and with sound by Tom Davies which was spot on throughout, a crew of Nigel and Christine Allen and Mark Croft with the authentic costumes sourced by Sheena and Mike Ward being supplied by Admiral Costumes this completed a top notch backstage team.
The three episodes chosen were Private Plane, where our heroes all volunteer to join the Royal Flying Corps despite the presence of the arrogant flying ace Lord Flashheart. Also picked was General Hospital, where Private George is injured by a bomb on the dugout ends up in hospital where the search for a German spy begins and Blackadder has an eye on Nurse Mary, Goodbyeee, the iconic final episode where Blackadder does everything he can think of to avoid being involved in the dreaded final push.
Allowing for the fact that it’s almost impossible to duplicate all to the physical characteristics of the original cast, the characterisations really couldn’t be faulted with top notch impersonations throughout.
Rob Taylor certainly made Blackadder his own, but I have to say I took a bit of getting used to him in the part, partly as in the LBDG’s previous sortie into this series he made his excellent acting debut playing Lord Melchett and partly because the first episode, Private Plane doesn’t have too much of Blackadder’s cutting ‘nasty’ streak, but by episode two, General Hospital the script was in full cutting mode and in the iconic episode three, Goodbyeee, he was perfectly demonstrating the full locker of Blackadder’s mannerisms and delivery, as one would expect of an actor of this calibre.
I would never have recognised Colin Delamore. I did a double take when I read the programme to see who was playing the part. He nailed Baldrick perfectly, cunningly disguised, getting the voice and the facial expressions spot on. Loved it!
Randall Moll, makes something of a speciality of playing zany military characters in my presence, I last saw him as Major Gower in Faulty Towers, so it was no surprise he metaphorised splendidly into General Melchett complete with the most wonderful moustache. Baaa!!
Tony White, as the unfortunate Darling was again characterised to a tee with great delivery of comic lines. His delivery of the iconic line ‘Bugger!’ when describing his diary entry having been sent to the front, was just sublimely funny and incredibly poignant at the same time!
Russel Bennett pulled off the innocent boyish Lieutenant George with consummate ease, again faultless.
Lorna Daggett, certainly held her own in this otherwise all male cast as Driver Bobby Pankhurst and Nurse Mary. A strong confident performance that kept the boys on their toes.
What can one say about Flashheart, a part that was made in heaven that is impossible to over act! Ben Clarke went for it big time and kept us all in stitches, dominated the stage as of course he should and provided us with plenty of ‘Woofs’ along the way.
Mike Ward (Lt Von Gearhardt) and Bob Kempster (Barron Von Ritchhoven, Brigadier Smith and Field Marxhall Haig) played their parts to the full and completed an excellent cast.
To be slightly critical, I did find the pace a little off at times especially in the early episodes, not helped by one or two awkward scene changes, but it certainly picked up in Goodbyee and the use of the video at the end was excellent, with real footage from the Great War metaphorizing into poppies and then finally a sea of red. Well done, I had wondered how LBDG would deal with the most iconic of comedy show ending and this was very cleverly and poignantly done.
So, thank you Leighton Buzzard, another excellent show, cunningly planned and well executed.
The production raised £540.43 to be split between Comic Relief and The Poppy Legion. Leighton Buzzard Drama Group's next show is the play Natural Causes to be staged in September.
Pictures by AGF Photography