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Only Fools and Horses musical gets mixed reviews from critics on opening night

It’s the hit TV show that featured 64 episodes and holds the record for biggest TV sitcom audience, when 24.3million people tuned in for the 1996 Christmas special.

Now, Only Fools And Horses has made the move from Peckham to the West End as the musical adaptation of the long-running comedy had its premiere last night.  

The show, which has been running previews at the Theatre Royal Haymarket since February 9, attracted a mixed bag of reviews from critics in today’s newspapers.

Mark Lawson in the Guardian said too many of the songs were ‘plonkers’, while Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph called it ‘theatrically under-achieved’.

But Rachael Bletchley in the Daily Mirror said it was a ‘joyous nostalgic romp’ and Alun Hood in WhatsOnStage said it had ‘heart, wit and warmth by the bucketload’.

The Mail’s Jan Moir said it was ‘heartening to know that the world of the Trotters has lost none of its appeal’, despite admitting it had ‘little dramatic impetus’. 

The musical was initially conceived by the show’s creator John Sullivan, who died in 2011 – and was continued by his son Jim, with Paul Whitehouse co-writing.

Tom Bennett plays Del Boy, first portrayed by Sir David Jason, Ryan Hutton plays Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Rodney and Whitehouse plays Lennard Pearce’s Grandad. 

Tom Bennett, who plays Del Boy, during the curtain call for Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West End last night

Comedian Paul Whitehouse plays Grandad in Only Fools and Horses The Musical last night

Comedian Paul Whitehouse plays Grandad in Only Fools and Horses The Musical last night

The full cast of Only Fools and Horses the Musical are (from left): Peter Baker (Trigger), Andy Mace (Mike The Barman), Paul Whitehouse (Grandad), Ryan Hutton (Rodney), Tom Bennett (Del Boy), Adrian Irvine (Denzil), Chris Kiely (Mickey Pearce), Oscar Conlon-Morrey (Dating Agent), Pete Gallagher (Danny Driscoll), Dianne Pilkington (Raquel), Pippa Duffy (Cassandra), Adam Venus (Tony Driscoll), Samantha Seager (Marlene) and Jeff Nicholson (Boycie)

The full cast of Only Fools and Horses the Musical are (from left): Peter Baker (Trigger), Andy Mace (Mike The Barman), Paul Whitehouse (Grandad), Ryan Hutton (Rodney), Tom Bennett (Del Boy), Adrian Irvine (Denzil), Chris Kiely (Mickey Pearce), Oscar Conlon-Morrey (Dating Agent), Pete Gallagher (Danny Driscoll), Dianne Pilkington (Raquel), Pippa Duffy (Cassandra), Adam Venus (Tony Driscoll), Samantha Seager (Marlene) and Jeff Nicholson (Boycie)

Jan Moir, Daily Mail

The air is thick with Blue Stratos aftershave and expectation, as the packed stalls await the comforting arrival of the funny familiar; the dipsticks, the plonkers, the very crème de la menthe of Peckham, here to cavort before our very eyes. And we are not disappointed.

Dominic Maxwell, The Times

Do we need an Only Fools and Horses musical? Frankly, these days we could do with all the fun we can get. Which is why it’s such a shame that this effort by Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan — son of the great sitcom’s creator and writer, John Sullivan — is such an odd mix of the tried-and-tested and the new-and-half-cocked. It’s got lovely moments. It’s got moments you wouldn’t buy off the back of a three-wheeled van.

Rating:

Mark Lawson, Guardian

The finest collection of vintage gags on the London stage should allow the show to make a fair amount of what Del Boy calls ‘lovely jubbly’. But, as a musical, a few too many of the songs are, to borrow again from the Trotter lingo, plonkers.

Rating:

Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph

Only generous-hearted fools and die-hard fans need apply within for this endearing but theatrically under-achieved stage-musical version of the much-loved BBC sitcom. 

Rating:

Rachael Bletchly, Daily Mirror 

Del’s still got the sheepskin but still ‘hasn’t got a pot to p*** in’, Grandad’s back in his armchair, suffering with his Chalfonts, and Rodders is still punching above his weight romancing classy Cassandra, played by Pippa Duffy. But now they’re all singing and dancing too, truly making this joyous nostalgic romp down Hooky Street the creme de la menthe. No wonder tickets are as rare as a genuine Rolex in Del’s suitcase.

Alun Hood, WhatsOnStage

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.

Rating:

Mark Shenton, London Theatre

Just how much you warm to it will largely depend on your wish to revisit a beloved TV series in this new but hardly revelatory format. As directed and choreographed by Caroline Jay Ranger, the pace is uneven; songs fail to emerge organically out of the action, but feel bolted onto a version of a TV script. 

Rating:

Boycie actor urges Theresa May to be more like Del Boy as he attends Only Fools and Horses The Musical premiere  

The Only Fools And Horses actor behind Boycie has said Prime Minister Theresa May needs to be more like Del Boy.

John Challis, who played acerbic car salesman Herman Boyce in the hit comedy, has claimed dodgy deal maker Del Boy Trotter could offer lessons to the Prime Minister.

The actor has said that in times of Brexit uncertainty Only Fools And Horses comforting relief from turbulent politics, and remind the British people that ‘things aren’t so bad’.

John Challis (left), who played car salesman Herman 'Boycie' Boyce

Patrick Murray, who was Rodney's friend Michael 'Mickey' Pearce

John Challis (left), who played car salesman Herman ‘Boycie’ Boyce, and Patrick Murray (right), who was Rodney’s friend Michael ‘Mickey’ Pearce, both attended the show in London last night

(From left) Tom Bennett as Del Boy, Ryan Hutton as Rodney and Paul Whitehouse as Grandad

(From left) Tom Bennett as Del Boy, Ryan Hutton as Rodney and Paul Whitehouse as Grandad

Speaking at the premiere of the musical adaptation of the long-running comedy, Challis suggested Mrs May could learn from Del Boy’s plucky persistence in the face of adversity.

Lennard Pearce, Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst Stars in Only Fools and Horses

Lennard Pearce, Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst Stars in Only Fools and Horses

The actor thinks the musical, masterminded by Paul Whitehouse, will be a hit with UK audiences stricken with worries and Brexit fatigue.

He said: ‘At the end, it just made you smile and think ‘it’s not so bad’.

‘It’s embodied in Del Boy dusting himself off, getting up and having another go. Maybe Theresa May could do with a bit of that spirit.

‘People are attracted to that. There’s a certainty about that. Things aren’t so bad, that’s the message, whatever happens we’ll get through.’

The Only Fools And Horses Musical features Whitehouse as Grandad, Tom Bennett as Del Boy and Ryan Hutton as Rodney.

It was initially conceived by series creator John Sullivan, who died in 2011, and was continued by his son Jim with Whitehouse co-writing.

Ray Winstone at the premiere

Theo Paphitis at the premiere

Actor Ray Winstone (left) and businessman Theo Paphitis attend the Only Fools opening night

Bill Bailey sits on the famous three-wheeler at the premiere at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Bill Bailey sits on the famous three-wheeler at the premiere at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Chas Hodges of Chas And Dave provided additional music.

Only Fools and Horses by numbers

1981: First episode broadcast on BBC

33 years: How long the show ran for

Seven series of the comedy shown

64 episodes and 16 seasonal specials 

24.3million viewers tuned in for Time On Our Hands in Christmas 1996 

Challis believes the typically British comedy classic will be comforting to audiences in uncertain times.

He said: ‘There is so much love for it out there, across all the generations, all sorts of people, all walks of life. I can actually hear that on the street.

‘People in this day and age, very difficult times, they just want to sit and go and have a good laugh.

‘We don’t have to think too much, just laugh. It’s tapped into that, it’s a very good time to do it, and I think we need it.

‘I there’s a lot of worried people out there, a lot of uncertain people, not knowing what the hell is going to happen next. I’m one of them.

Raquel (Tessa Peake-Jones), Del Boy (Sir David Jason), Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Cassandra (Gwyneth Strong) pose on the sofa of their flat in Peckham in the original TV show

Raquel (Tessa Peake-Jones), Del Boy (Sir David Jason), Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Cassandra (Gwyneth Strong) pose on the sofa of their flat in Peckham in the original TV show

‘Even if we get a deal, is it going to be the right deal, are we going to pull out of Europe and say to hell with it? I think people want this sort of show because it means so much to them personally.’ 

Rodney and Del Boy dressed as Batman and Robin in the  classic 1996 Only Fools and Horses episode when the brothers dress up for a party which turns out to be a wake

Rodney and Del Boy dressed as Batman and Robin in the classic 1996 Only Fools and Horses episode when the brothers dress up for a party which turns out to be a wake

The TV show ran for 33 years for 1981 across seven series, including 64 episodes and 16 seasonal specials.

All of them starred David Jason as Del Boy and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney. 

Lennard Pearce, who played Grandad, was replaced following his death in 1984 by Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert.

The comedy also still holds the record for biggest TV sitcom audience, when the Christmas 1996 special Time On Our Hands attracted 24.3million viewers. 

Nicholas Lyndhurst, who played Rodney in the beloved series, launched a musical of his own yesterday. The British actor is set to star alongside Frasier actor Kelsey Grammar in Man of La Mancha at the Coliseum Theatre in London in April.

The English National Opera’s production of the musical is inspired by Miguel de Cervante’s Don Quixote featuring the iconic song Dream the Impossible Dream.

Only Fools And Horses The Musical is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

Lovely bubbly jubbly! JAN MOIR raises a glass of Tittinger to Del Boy and Rodney as Only Fools and Horses storms the West End

By JAN MOIR FOR THE DAILY MAIL

Chateauneuf du Pape! What is occurring here? 

On a busy Saturday night up West, a three-wheeled vehicle is illegally parked outside a London theatre. Fans swarm around the yellow Reliant Regal, posing for selfies and even kissing the bonnet.

For despite its pantomime grime and battered bodywork, this little motor is as iconic as the Tardis, as famous as the Batmobile, more loved than Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. 

There are loud cheers when Del Boy appears in his sheepskin coat, setting up his stall with genuine models of the Leaning Eiffel Tower of Pisa. The year is 1989, and Del informs us that he still hasn’t got a pot, how can I put this politely, to use as a receptacle for his body fluids

There are loud cheers when Del Boy appears in his sheepskin coat, setting up his stall with genuine models of the Leaning Eiffel Tower of Pisa. The year is 1989, and Del informs us that he still hasn’t got a pot, how can I put this politely, to use as a receptacle for his body fluids

And we all know what its presence here means. It means Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad have finally made it to the West End.

Only Fools And Horses The Musical opened in review at the Theatre Royal Haymarket at the weekend and already tickets for the show are rarer than genuine Rolexes on Del’s fly pitch in Peckham market.

In the two-hour show, comedy actor Paul Whitehouse plays Grandad, while Tom Bennett is Del Boy and Ryan Hutton takes the part of Rodney. 

All three sing and dance in a romp which includes 20 songs, amid scenes and running gags directly culled from writer John Sullivan’s much-loved sitcom.

Oddly enough, in one old episode of the telly series, Rodney ponders the notion of a musical about the Trotters. ‘Then as a sequel, they could do Schindler’s List on ice,’ he concludes, surmising the improbability of such an idea.

The show is based on the original TV series, with Peckham-based wide boy 'Del' Trotter (Sir David Jason) pictured centre, alongside his brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) left, and Grandad (Lennard Pearce) right [File photo]

The show is based on the original TV series, with Peckham-based wide boy ‘Del’ Trotter (Sir David Jason) pictured centre, alongside his brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) left, and Grandad (Lennard Pearce) right [File photo]

Yet here it is, playing to an eager opening night audience who seem to have been bussed in from Cockneyland, wherever that might be these days. 

The air is thick with Blue Stratos aftershave and expectation, as the packed stalls await the comforting arrival of the funny familiar; the dipsticks, the plonkers, the very crème de la menthe of Peckham, here to cavort before our very eyes.

And we are not disappointed. There are loud cheers when Del Boy appears in his sheepskin coat, setting up his stall with genuine models of the Leaning Eiffel Tower of Pisa.

The year is 1989, and Del informs us that he still hasn’t got a pot, how can I put this politely, to use as a receptacle for his body fluids.

Our hero is still on the hunt for bunce, still dreaming that this time next year they will all be millionaires. He could have had an Aston Martin ‘with one of them cellulite phones’ but we see him still flogging dodgy gear and taking care of Grandad, Rodney and all the rest.

John Sullivan’s original scripts shimmered with genius, while his finely drawn characters could never be bettered and his bevelled plots stand the test of time. I mean, pot pourri! 

John Sullivan’s original scripts shimmered with genius, while his finely drawn characters could never be bettered and his bevelled plots stand the test of time. I mean, pot pourri! 

The good news is that the gang are all here, including Boycie and Marlene (Jeff Nicholson and Samantha Seagar), Raquel (Dianne Pilkington), Cassandra (Pippa Duffy), Trigger (Peter Baker), Denzil (Adrian Irvine), Mickey Pearce (Chris Keily) and special mention to Oscar Conlon-Morrey who is quite brilliant in his range of supporting roles.

In a show that mixes up musical styles with hilarious gusto, the Driscoll brothers (Pete Gallagher and Adam Venus) pop up to sing a menacing ditty a la Gilbert & Sullivan while Raquel emotes sadly of love in a way that Andrew Lloyd Webber would approve.

For the leads, accuracy of impression seems to be more important than depth of musical skill, with only Bennett rising effortlessly to the challenge of both. He even makes Del tap dance! What a star.

Still, Hutton absolutely nails down Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Rodney, while Paul Whitehouse manages, from the depths of Grandad’s stained armchair and a shirt that still has more food on it than a menu, to make the old boy both pathetic and heroic. ‘I wouldn’t mind a nice bit of haddock for my tea,’ he says at one point, and it nearly made me cry.

The bad news, if there is any, is that the show has little dramatic impetus. Instead, it is a compendium of classic Only Fools episodes and plotlines. The dialogue, like Del Boy’s pre-blessed communion wine, has been imported wholesale from old shows. There is little new except a few songs, and some of those are a bit make-weight.

There are moments when the jubbly is not as lovely as it could be and you can sense the audience yearning for something more. No doubt this will improve as the show gets into its stride.

The plot, what there is of one, is similar to Dates, the episode in which Del meets Raquel. Along the way, Rodney marries Cassandra (from an episode called Little Problems) and later the gang all plan a day-trip to Margate (Jolly Boys Outing).

Still, perhaps this was for the best. John Sullivan’s original scripts shimmered with genius, while his finely drawn characters could never be bettered and his bevelled plots stand the test of time. I mean, pot pourri!

Who could possibly top Del Boy’s magnificent malapropisms and jambon-fisted grasp of languages? Sullivan died in 2011, but his son Jim has teamed up with Whitehouse to produce a script and score that honours his father’s legacy, complete with musical contributions by Chas and Dave.

The TV show won many awards during its 33-year run. Starting in 1981, there were seven series, 64 episodes and 16 seasonal specials, all starring David Jason as Del Boy and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Rodney. Lennard Pearce, who played Grandad, was replaced after his death in 1984 by Buster Merryfield as Uncle Albert.

It holds the record for biggest TV sitcom audience, when Time On Our Hands attracted 24.3 million viewers at Christmas in 1996.

Who is going to mess with that legacy? For if you laughed at the idea of Del Boy performing the ‘Himmler’ manoeuvre on Grandad after he ate an Odour Eater first time around, well you will howl again when it is replayed in the musical. We all howled.

There are even plans to tear down Harlech Tower in West London, left, which was used as the original location for Nelson Mandela House, in a £650 million regeneration plan [File photo]

There are even plans to tear down Harlech Tower in West London, left, which was used as the original location for Nelson Mandela House, in a £650 million regeneration plan [File photo]

Old jokes and running themes rebound, even in these sensitive times. Trigger is still the village idiot, while Boycie and Marlene are still trying to have a baby.

And yes, this personal tragedy of theirs is still regarded with hilarity by all. ‘We call him Jaffa, because he is seedless,’ says Del, as he first did all those years ago.

On stage, Marlene wears a handkerchief hem leopard-print dress to flirt with Del, while Boycie eyes her balefully as he sings a Sondheim-esqe song about their visits to the fertility clinic. ‘Like it or lump it, I’ve just got to hump it,’ he croons, a popcorn spluttering moment of ribaldry that only fools and horses could carry off.

All this takes place on a revolving set. Via this bit of stagecraft, the Trotters’ lives pass before our eyes in a grimy carousel; the palm-print wallpaper and sagging armchairs of the Nelson Mandela House flat, complete with Old Spice bottle on the sideboard and cocktail apparatus.

There is the Nags Head, Sid’s cafe and the Peckham street scenes which may look shabby, but there the spirit of community and friendship still flourish.

Songs include the theme tunes Only Fools And Horses and Hooky Street, plus Chas and Dave’s Margate, while the best new songs include Where Have All The Cockneys Gone and A Bit Of A Sort.

There are a few surprises along the way which I am not going to spoil here, but it is heartening to know that the world of the Trotters has lost none of its appeal. 

Rodney is still proud of his two GCEs, while Del still marvels at hen-nights where girls drink Tittinger champagne and are entertained by the Chimpendales. His heart is still as big as an ocean, which is one of the reasons why, mange tout, we will love him for ever.

Especially as their world no longer exists. We are in a different reality now.

Actress Sue Holderness, who played Marlene on TV, recently had to defend Only Fools in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, on account of Del Boy always pinching her bottom. It was just fun, she said, but he would be deemed a ‘pervert’ and ‘inappropriate’ now.

In the musical, Grandad suddenly decides to get his ‘Chalfont St Giles’ fixed, and is whisked into a hospital ward before you can say holy haemorrhoids. Today, he’d still be on a waiting list.

There are even plans to tear down Harlech Tower in West London, which was used as the original location for Nelson Mandela House, in a £650 million regeneration plan.

Yet in some forgotten corner of South-East London, the ghost of a little man who dreamed of a bigger life will linger with us for ever.

From Peckham to the West End he is on a cushty journey, this most highly prized of all plonkers. What else is there to do but raise a glass of Tittinger and wish you all a fond bonjour.

This review was first published in the Daily Mail on February 11 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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