Review Round-Ups

Just how cushty was the Only Fools and Horses musical?

The brand new musical based on classic sitcom had its opening night last night – here’s what the critics made of it

Tom Bennett in Only Fools and Horses The Musical
Tom Bennett in Only Fools and Horses The Musical
© Johan Persson

Alun Hood, WhatsOnStage


"If ever a new musical was critic-proof, it's this one; try getting a couple of decent seats within the next month or so if you don't believe me. Co-written by Jim Sullivan, whose late father John penned the stupendously popular TV series, and Paul Whitehouse, who also – rather beautifully – plays Grandad, this rollicking stage treatment comes bowling into the unlikely confines of the ornate Theatre Royal Haymarket on a cloud of boundless goodwill, irrepressible humour and a carefully cultivated sense of the familiar."

"Tom Bennett's turn as Del Boy heralds the arrival of a blazingly impressive new musical theatre talent. Bennett does more than just offer up an (admittedly uncanny) recreation of David Jason's beloved original, capturing all the swagger, underhandedness, cheeky charm, vulnerability and strange campness that made Derek Trotter such compelling, if infuriating, company."

"It's not a well-crafted musical in the traditional sense but then you'd expect a stage life of the Peckham Trotters to be a bit rough-round-the-edges. It has heart, wit and warmth by the bucketload."

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard


"The usual argument with this sort of project runs along the lines of ‘why pay West End prices when you could watch the original at home?' This show is a rare exception, as it feels like loving, lively homage rather than empty imitation. Whitehouse and Sullivan Jr present an appealingly ebullient compendium of what we loved most about the show, serving up ample helpings of wit, pluck, graft and family loyalty."

"There's much knees-uppery in the score, which essentially sounds as though it has been written by Chas and Dave. A couple of the songs are indeed by the chirpy Cockneys and Chas Hodges has collaborated on others. The spirit of this music, a celebration of tightly-bonded communities, is a fitting accompaniment for events in Peckham."

Mark Lawson, The Guardian


"The two most famous visual jokes in the TV show – involving a wobbling chandelier and a hinged flap on a bar – are either included, or alluded to, both nicely timed to tease the audience's anticipation of whether they can be staged. Fresh material includes an enjoyable fantasy flash-forward from the show's 1989 setting to the Peckham of today, where posh coffee, old clothes and houses are being sold to people who may be getting as dodgy a deal as the customers of Trotter Independent Trading."

"…New numbers are padded out with jukebox inclusions, including two old Chas and Dave hits and the Bill Withers soul song "Lovely Day", always worth a listen but, in this musical, feeling as knock-off as the goods on Del Boy's market stall."

The cast of Only Fools and Horses
The cast of Only Fools and Horses
© Johan Persson

Natasha Tripney, The Stage


"Carol Jay Ranger's production is both an exercise in nostalgia and a lament for a London lost, recreating a world populated by barrow boys and small-time villains – the denizens of the Nag's Head.

"It doesn't really work as a musical though. The songs include a couple of Chas and Dave numbers, as well as Sullivan's own ear-worm theme song and some much less catchy numbers supplied by Whitehouse, but it all feels a bit cobbled together."

"The charm of the cast go a good way to salvaging things. Bennett miraculously manages to make David Jason's verbal tics and malapropisms – all the "bon jours" and "mange touts" – his own, while layering on the charm and warmth."

Paul Taylor, The Independent


"Bennett becomes genuinely and subtly touching after Rodney's upwardly mobile wedding as he contemplates life without the boy he jokily claims to have "breastfed". Dianne Pilkington is lovely (and in great voice) as Raquel, the would-be actress and part-time stripper whose thwarted dreams mesh with those of Del, once he's given up the pretence of being an international talent scout."

"There is something crucially missing, though, from this musical – and that's any truly compelling reason why these characters have to burst into song. It's an eclectic score but maybe that's just a fancy way of saying that it's erratic. There are moments when it nods to show-business."

Tom Wicker, Time Out


"…By God, the show's storyline is stretched so thinly here, it practically squeaks. Sullivan and Whitehouse have tried to cram a crowd-pleasing 64 episodes of material into a plot based on just one: 'Dates', in which Del meets his future wife, Raquel (played here with a lot of charm by Dianne Pilkington). The resulting experience is like a low-stakes drift through a Madame Tussauds exhibition and a greatest hits compilation."

"As Mrs Obooko, Melanie Marshall's soulful rendition of Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years", as Del is beaten up by the Driscoll brothers in a scene of sudden brutality, is powerful. This is one of too few moments where this production, entertaining as it is, finds its own feet and doesn't simply prop itself up against the past."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times


"Oh, there are moments of charm and skill in here. Del falls through the bar, as you want him to, but they teasingly make us wait for the moment. Whitehouse has fun sticking on a big white beard as Uncle Albert – more fun than he has as weary Grandad – and, yeah, so many of John Sullivan's original lines still sound lovely jubbly.

"They have a neat idea for Trigger (an amusingly lugubrious Peter Baker) to summon up the hipster Peckham of 30 years hence with a crystal ball. Then they fudge the execution. Del and Raquel's first date is funny, awkward and tender. And then, from nowhere, they start singing "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers. Eh? Can they do that? What are the rules here? It's a well-meaning evening but it needs a generous audience."