Last of the Summer Wine – The Moonbather (tour-Colchester)

Farce is froth. Froth with a sharp underbite. Comedy has a sweeter taste. The trouble with The Moonbather is that it is poised precariously between genres. Last of the Summer Wine is of course a much loved television sitcom, one which has survived cast changes and plot shifts with its audiences’ affections maintained for the better part of four decades.

The Moonbather is written by Roy Clarke, author of the television scripts, and directed by Chris Jordan in a fashion which suggests the hybrid nature of the show. There are endless short scenes with set changes – the designer is Julie Gordfrey – and one is never quite convinced that one is in a theatre, watching a play. Are we not perhaps in a television studio? One which just happens to be in a playhouse?

That’s not to criticise the individual performers, led by Timothy Kightley as Clegg, who rashly yields up the privacy of his home to further Dewhurst’s (John Pennington) designs on Samantha (Gillian Axtell). Things naturally don’t go according to plan. Meg, the brash neighbour with her own take on events, is Ruth Madoc and scruffy Compo (Harry Dickman]) sees no reason why he should be excluded from the party. Any party.

Add in a village constable with a bike and a bugle in pursuit of a flasher – Steven Pinder as Bewmont – and the balaclava-helmeted, macintosh-belted miscreant himself – Tony Adams as Pilbeam – and it should have all added up to an evening of gentle fun. But that didn’t really happen until far too long into the second half. Somehow one felt cheated.

It’s all too much of a hybrid with over-long pauses between the scenes, which then seem more like a sequence of individual sketches than one coherent whole. Yes, the audience laughs, but not all the time. There is a sense that one is willing it to succeed, and it’s always falling short. That’s a pity, for there is an appetite among theatregoers for staged versions of television and radio favourites.

Dinnerladies proved immensely popular on tour and bookings for the new stage version of Porridge are reportedly high. So are those for Round the Horne, which also uses original scripts. But theatre magic is an elusive genie. This time round it stayed firmly in his bottle.