A stage version of Roy Clarke’s long-running sitcom – famously filmed in Holmfirth, where it spawned a tourist industry – is an obvious fit for Huddersfield Thespiansl.
After all, the actors can do the accents impeccably and Last of the Summer Wine – while it might have outstayed its critical welcome on the box – is embedded in local culture.
The series was padded out with madcap antics and an ever expanding cast of rather over-eccentric characters, but the philosophical musings of the three central old fogeys as they wandered the Holme Valley, aka “Summer Wine Country”, was at its core. Therefore, it is easy to imagine a taut and bittersweet Last of the Summer Wine play – derived from Roy Clarke’s undoubted way with words – being rather a successful offering, with overtones of Bennett or Beckett maybe.
Instead, we have overtones of Ray Cooney, because the play is an attempt at a sitting room farce, with slamming doors, character entrances and exits and mistaken identities – the catalyst being the incursion of a comedy archetype in the shape of a dirty raincoated flasher (who is attempting to publicise his patent device for obtaining inside leg measurements).
The cast of Pauline Sykes’s production expend a lot of energy on this rather laboured farce, and it all goes fairly smoothly.
This is to their credit, because farce is notoriously difficult to bring off.
However, Roy Clarke’s strength was always in verbal invention and character interplay.
The bizarre penchant he showed in the TV series for runaway vehicles (bedsteads, bathtubs etc) illustrated his fondness for physical comedy, but it was always the least successful element of the series and it is shame that he tried to transfer it to the stage.
The play revolves around the “classic” trio of Clegg, Foggy and Compo and it is fascinating to see them realised by different actors. Wisely, they do not attempt direct impressions but reproduce the mannerisms and speech patterns of the TV performers with considerable skill.
As Foggy, David Lightfoot has the right degree of pomposity and military bearing as Foggy, and Keith Royston is full of earthy energy as Compo.
Especially enjoyable was Jonathan Sharp as the gentle, sardonic, anxiety-ridden Clegg, whose commentary on events was always the most satisfactory aspect of the TV show.
It was almost a shame that in the play he rapidly gets swept up by the torrent of farce.
The cast also features Andrew Stopford as the bumptious Gifford Bewmont, Meg Plummer as the lovelorn Constance (so frustrated that she actually contemplates marriage to Foggy), David Smith as the flasher and, of course, Maureen Speight as the formidable Nora Batty.
It is interesting to see Last of the Summer Wine realised on stage (and it does not outstay its welcome) but it would have been better as a less frenzied play.
It runs until Saturday, when there is also a matinee.