In 1989, the famous Irving Berlin tune ‘What’ll I do’ (sung by Berlin himsel) rang out across the UK for 102 episodes of TV sitcom Birds of a Feather. The show charted the lives of Sharon and Tracy, two friends brought together as their husbands had been jailed for armed robbery, and their sex-crazed neighbour Dorien Green, played by Lesley Joseph. The last episode of this ground breaking show (it was the first production on the BBC to feature the lives of three women) aired on Christmas Eve 1998.
Fourteen years later,we have got Birds of a Feather – Live on Stage. Following recent stage adaptations of Keeping up Appearances and Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, Birds of a Feather offers something that these previous adaptations have failed to offer: the original line up. As a result, the excitement in the theatre foyer is electric, as an eclectic mix of pensioners and twenty-somethings file in.
“This could be a disaster,” I think as I take my seat, but as soon as the original opening credits are projected on the curtain, the cast had the audience in the palm of their hands. Pauline Quirke revives her role as Sharon, Linda Robson steps back into the role of Tracy, and it’s like we’ve never been away. The great thing about this production is that the writing team, Gary Lawson and John Phelps, with original sitcom writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, have kept the characters true to who they are. There’s no radical changes to how they act, talk or what they say, it’s like catching up with old friends.
Quirke has her comic timing down to a fine art, delivering some of the best and most scathingly bitchy lines to roars of laughter from the audience. Robson plays Tracy as an over-protective mother who has spun a whole load of lies to her son (played by Robson’s actual son in rotation with Quirke’s son) in order to keep him from knowing the truth about his father… watch the lie unravel with great hilarity.
Lesley Joseph enters to jokes about her age as the fabulous Dorien Green. Sporting a tight mini dress, with huge locks of bouffant black hair, the audience whoops with applause as her quick-fire wit shoots down Sharon as quickly as Sharon hurls her the abuse.
The show isn’t going to change the world, but the writing, which is very topical and fresh, is bursting at the seams with comedy. The production feels like a natural progression from the existing story, but I would argue that even a newcomer to the world of Birds of a Feather would enjoy the antics of three older ladies getting themselves out of a potential murder plot and family dramas.
The key to this production is that they haven’t messed with a formula that works, and the result is an audience who leave the theatre beaming after a good evening of well-executed entertainment. Go and see it for a trip down memory lane, or to enjoy some good laughs at a comedy that is current and will have you smiling all the way home.
Birds of a Feather is playing at Richmond Theatre until 21 April. For more information and tickets, see the Richmond Theatre website.