Blackadder Goes Forth

‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ is the truly hilarious stage version of the huge BBC tv success by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. The script is a wonderful blend of three television episodes that really works. With any TV series being presented by a theatre group, there are unfairly huge expectations to see the actors look like and perform identically to the characters in the show.

This VERY SHORT season runs from Friday 25th February to Saturday 6th March and is presented by The Rockingham Theatre Company at the Castle Theatre in Attwood Way, Rockingham.

Scene:   1916 Europe’s Front Line in World War 1

Set design:          Rob Walker and Callon Leam. There were 7 venues depicted.

  • A dug out – outside the proscenium arch on the side apron.
  • A trench with plank bunks, table, and benches. Small details like the old grey, heavy duty blankets with black stripes on them, and a wooden gun box helped put realism into the set and bring the whole thing to life (Props:         Michelle Smith, Michelle Lawson, Kathy Doherty and Miranda Santalucia)
  • Staff HQ – a fully fitted office with cream panelled walls – filled with photos and paintings of the time, and a marble fireplace – complete with working fire. Desk, maps, carpet and on the rear wall a double door and a single door
  • No man’s land
  • Hospital. Two metal framed beds with wartime bedding and visitors chairs
  • Hospital office
  • the Big Push Set

Construction:     Rob Walker, Kim Smith, Julia Della Franca and volunteers. Impressive.     

Lighting technician:         Jackie Hiscox created a remarkable, ‘dirty and dull’ atmosphere. Even in the cinema I have seen full lighting in trench scenes, which has killed the effect.

Sound technician:            Danny Joyce’s sound effects were realistic, numerous and always on cue.

Stage manager:                Peter Shaw and his assistant Stage Manager, Michelle Lawson, were faced with two dozen scenes, requiring bunks to disappear, hospital beds and furniture to move in and out, plus flies that disappeared into the rafters; a frightening prospect. With a civilian army of stage crew and everyone fully informed of their tasks, they just moved in, emptied the stage, re-set the next scene, and left in total silence – no apprehensive lingering. Brilliant work with the maximum time being 10 seconds for each change. The playing of rousing old war songs, from the Mike Sammes Singers (?) detracted even further from the number of changes.

Stage crew:        In black leotards – Michelle Smith, Michelle Lawson, Sue Walker and cast.

In army uniform, carrying the banners between scenes, Ben Naylor and Deborah Wilson brought a little humour to the intervals.

For years, Captain Edmund Blackadder (Shaun Griffin) has stayed in the same trench avoiding any war action. His servant, Private Baldrick (Kris Davis) takes care of his every need. The private school educated; The Rt. Hon. George (Luke Webb) is gullible but keen to save his country. Insipid Captain Darling (Aiden Rosenberg) works with the insane General Sir Anthony Melchett (Mark Dyer) in the headquarters. We experience various times over a two year period.

Nurse Mary (Carlie Drake) tries to cope with the injured, including the strange Mr Smith (Alan Donovan).

Incompetent Field Marshall Haig (Mitch Drain) makes a brief appearance from a safe neutral area.

A variety of well-fitting, authentic uniforms and costumes were thanks to the hard work of Sue Lawson, Bronte Borne and the help of Marjorie DeCaux at Marloo.

Young actor, Callon Leam is directing this his first show. I must admit that with such a well-known central character and high audience expectations, I was a little worried about the amount he had taken on. Could he find an experienced cast who would look like the famous characters? Not completely; he has selected a cast, only half of whom had any experience. A couple were in their first show, another resurrected from twenty years in virtual retirement. Could Callon do it? With his perfect focus and amiable nature, he determinedly guided the cast, new and experienced through the high demands. The knowledge may not have been there, but the body language and demeanour for each character was perfect.

Director Callon and his assistant director Peter Shaw certainly did it. Total success. Would the cast have the voice intonations? With each having very different personalities and social status, the deliveries of their lines was complex as they invariably had a punchline to be returned. Close your eyes and it was without any doubt the original cast members speaking. When I saw the actors, Shaun really was Rowan Atkinson, exceptional, his whole body was Blackadder. Very strongly supported by Luke Webb, who would have passed as Stephen Fry’s lovechild instead of Hugh Laurie whose part he played – very good. Kris Davis as the disgusting Baldrick left me gasping. The other cast members were equally powerful, no one missed a beat, great role playing from Aiden as the weak, crawling Darling and Mark as the delightful blustering, pompous Melchett. Even the smaller roles were acted with confidence. Carlie as Nurse Mary was a shy innocent changing to lustful woman. Alan’s Mr Smith with his accurate accent was enigmatic. Mitch as the detested Haig, made his brief cameo memorable.

Sorry Callon that I had my initial doubts; you did a truly impressive job. I look forward to your next directing adventure. Such a disappointment the season is so short.

A very funny, bawdy show. First class in all departments. Highly recommended.