Funny, reassuring and irrepressibly warm, the West End version of Only Fools and Horses is proving to be the right musical at the right time.
Five hundred years ago, Peckham was green and pleasant. By the 1980s and 1990s, when two of its most famous fictional characters Del Boy and Rodney Trotter were plying their dodgy wares, even the pigeons wanted to be elsewhere, or so Rodney tells us.
The London theatre scene could easily manage without another musical about love. But the UK premiere of this Australian-born celebration of the greatest of emotions by Peter Rutherford and James Millar is nevertheless as welcome, even as necessary, as every generation’s attempts to redefine love for themselves.
As far as 1960s audiences were concerned, Lionel Bart – famed for the musical Oliver – had lost his “twang” when he came up with the box office flop “Twang!!”, with two exclamation marks. But if the audiences of the swinging sixties weren’t ready, the 21st century theatre-goers of London’s Union Theatre – renowned for alternative, low-budget, high-entertainment musicals – are.
In a capitalist society, we’re nearly all hired hands, but the extent of the exploitation is more or less pernicious. Melvyn Bragg’s gritty, Northern, sweeping tale ultimately finds the best option for the ordinary man is to accept a pittance to work above ground rather than to toil in a futile World War I trench or in a narrow coal seam beneath the sea.