This brand new stage adaptation has been specially penned by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the series’ original writers, with the express purpose of “rekindling the fond memories held by so many of HMP Slade and its notorious inmates”. The premiere production opens at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage on 28 August 2009, before launching an extensive autumn/winter tour into 2010.
In Porridge, Fletcher, an old-hand at 'doing time', is in the midst of serving a five-year stretch at HMP Slade for breaking and entering. He expects to enjoy a single cell but is forced to share with a first-time offender, a naïve young Brummie called Lennie Godber, whom he reluctantly takes under his wing. In the course of the play, the pair struggle with rigged boxing matches and the occasional attempted breakout.
Commenting on his role as the iconic Fletcher, Williamson (pictured) said: “I am both terrified and excited - this part sums up the reason why I got into acting.” Since leaving EastEnders in 2003, Williamson has tread the boards in Saturday Night Fever and The Rocky Horror Show in the West End.
The stage adaptation coincides with the 30th anniversary of the death of Richard Beckinsale, who died in 1979 of a massive heart attack at the age of just 32. Porridge had finished after the fictional Godber’s release from prison, but Beckinsale and Barker went on to star in a film version (Beckinsale’s last completed work) and the sitcom spin-off Going Straight. The part of Godber in the 14-strong cast for the stage adaptation has not yet been announced.
In addition to Porridge, writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais also penned TV’s The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and the 2008 film The Bank Job starring Jason Statham, David Suchet and Daniel Mays.
Porridge is presented on tour by Calibre Productions, whose other recent screen-to-stage crossovers have include Dad’s Army and ‘Allo ‘Allo. Another 1970s sitcom that recently found success in the theatre was Steptoe and Son, which transferred to the West End in 2006 after premiering in York.
Commenting on the collaboration on Calibre’s latest stage adaptation, producer Ed O’Driscoll said: “Working with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais is both exciting and a privilege. I’m delighted they have agreed to be so involved with our production and must say that their enthusiasm is contagious. It obviously reflects their tremendous love for the series.”
Full tour dates beyond Stevenage have not yet been confirmed, though the schedule will include a Christmas season, from 22 December 2009 to 10 January 2010, in Manchester at The Lowry.
- by Terri Paddock