Back in the 1970s, Raymond Allen struggled to get anyone to take his scripts for a new comedy show seriously. Norman Wisdom turned down the lead role after asking when the jokes were going to be put in. Ronnie Barker also said no.
So all credit to Michael Crawford for spotting the enormous potential for physical comedy in the role of hapless Frank Spencer, and who went on to make Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em one of the biggest hits in the golden decade of British sitcoms.
Inspired by watching reruns of the old shows, writer and director Guy Unsworth now revisits Frank, complete with mac and beret, in this sparkling, frothy farce. It's based on one of Allen's episodes where Frank's patient wife Betty struggles to let him know that a baby Spencer is on the way.
For those who remember the original series, this is a delightful reminder of what a superb comedy Allen created – even the title music gets its own cheer of recognition. And for anyone new to the mayhem of accident-prone Frank's bungling and fumbling, the show is hugely enjoyable as laugh-out-loud entertainment. Unsworth's pacey script is packed full of cracking jokes and wordplay, and he has assembled a uniformly excellent cast who deliver the goods with gusto.
Joe Pasquale is endearing, engaging and infuriating as Frank Spencer, which is just as it should be. He may not capture quite all the nuances of the original, but his Frank is extremely funny – not least when struggles to disguise the fact that he's managed to end up wearing a skirt in front of a bank manager.
His tenuous relationship with the rest of the world is held in place by Betty, played with appealing warmth and sweetness by Sarah Earnshaw. Betty's mum is at the more cynical end of the female spectrum, and Susie Blake is on top form as man-hungry Barbara, who becomes increasingly unsteady as she works her way through a bottle of home-made hooch.
Moray Treadwell anchors the production with his commanding double act as pompous David Worthington and luvvie-ish Terry Luscombe, ably supported by David Shaw-Parker as well-meaning Father O'Hara, and Chris Kiely's young Constable.
Simon Higlett's ingenious set captures the '70s spirit and is cleverly built to manage the transformations required when Frank's DIY efforts go spectacularly wrong. Choreographer Jenny Arnold proves that sometimes the simplest ideas work best with a great 'Three Franks' dance routine on the staircase. Indeed this is a very physical show for the entire cast, right down to the "Tiger Feet" disco number at the end, and they deliver it with unflagging energy.
Like all the best comedies of the 1970s, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em can be enjoyed across the generations. This is a farce with a heart, and Unsworth's revival is a welcome comeback for Frank Spencer.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em runs at Richmond Theatre until 10 March and then tours the UK until 28 July.