Porridge (tour – Coventry)

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

This stage adaptation of the much-loved 70s sitcom follows cockney “jack-the-lad” Fletcher as he embarks on a five-year prison sentence.

The opening scenes attempt to introduce the characters, and at times seem a little forced as they each go through one by one explaining how they ended up in H.M.P Slade. However, as the show goes on, the audience are fed more and more titbits of information about and by the end of the first act, it’s clear where the story’s going.

The plotline at times seems a little over-contrived and the seemingly random additions of a boxing match and a (predictable) escape plot take some of the fun away from a continuous torrent of one liners and laughs that comprise Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ (writers of the original sitcom) tight script.

The use of prison lingo can occasionally grow tiresome. Unless you’re adept to this style of speak (which I can thankfully say, I am not!) it can become a little disorientating – unless you know your “Onions” from your “Oscars” there may be a few blank looks on you and your companions’ faces.

The cast do an excellent job in bringing such well-known televisual characters to the stage, particularly Shaun Williamson, who makes for a perfect ‘Fletch’. With a fantastic delivery of both verbal and visual comedy, his portrayal stays true to the original Barker-created character that means we instantly warm to his classic “beneath this hard exterior is a soft heart” style.

Another special mention must go to John Conroy, whose excellent portrayal of Barrowclough delivers a perfect balance of “good cop/bad cop” in partnership with Nicholas Lumley as Mr Mackay.

Overall, an enjoyable evening of light hearted comedy with a few genuinely touching moments. Porridge will likely (and deservedly) prove a popular success regardless of a few small shortcomings.

– Gareth Stringer