Only Fools and Horses

‘I watched the Only Fools and Horses musical and it was as good as a new episode would be’

John Sullivan’s sitcom Only Fools and Horses isn’t only a TV show, it has become a cultural phenomenon still watched today by audiences spanning the generations.

And die-hard fans have probably spent hours rewatching old episodes of Derek “Del Boy” Trotter roaming around South London trying to flog hooky gear, and undoubtedly still laugh at the timeless jokes.

But it has been more than 16 years since the last episode, Sleepless in Peckham, aired on the BBC, with most of us being hungry for more ever since.

So it is fair to say lots of us will have been just a little bit excited when it was announced that a musical version of the sitcom was being staged.

Showing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, in Central London, it has propelled the comedy back into the spotlight.

But is it any good?

Having gone to watch it for the first time this week I’m delighted to say it’s everything fans could hope for.

Paul Whitehouse and Jim Sullivan’s (he’s John’s son) adaption is a pleasing stream of new gags, classic insults and nods to legendary moments including Del’s infamous bar fall and the plunging chandelier.

Paul Whitehouse plays the role of Grandad (Image: Johan Persson)

The show kicks-off with Del Boy (Tom Bennett) promising his “plonker” of a younger brother Rodney (Ryan Hutton) that “this time next year, we’ll be millionaires”.

He then goes on to explain he’s got “some half price cracked ice and miles and miles of carpet tiles, TVs, Deep Freeze….”, and the famous theme tune arrives. 

The backdrop is a rather grubby landscape in Peckham with the sets cleverly gliding between the living room of the Trotters’ flat in Nelson Mandela House, The Nag’s Head and the market.

It’s the 1980s and wheeler-dealer Derek Trotter and brother Rodney are floating around trying to make some quick cash.

Sullivan and Whitehouse try pleasingly to cram in the most memorable moments including the “Dates” episode where Del meets Raquel.

Whilst Bennett plays the role of Del with irrepressible humour and a delicate sense of the familiar, he’s not trying to be David Jason but does project his cheeky charm, laddish swagger and side-splitting one-liners.

Mickey (Chris Kiely), Denzil (Adrian Irvine) and Mike (Andy Mace) equally infuse recognisable wit with their boyish banter and wisecracks.

When Del tries hawking dodgy looking Eiffel Towers to the audience, he’s also selling us simple nostalgia and we all loved it. It’s like being part of a live Only Fools episode.

Boycie (Jeff Nicholson) and Marlene (Samantha Seager) wonderfully inject the familiar marital camaraderie along with those infectious laughs whilst sharing serious frustrations of trying to conceive a baby.

Cockney dialect is padded out with a jukebox of relevant tunes, Grandad’s (Paul Whitehouse) rendition of “Where Have All The Cockneys Gone” was sensational – you could easily imagine Lennard Pearce dancing around to the tune in the earlier episodes of the sitcom.

Trigger, Del Boy and Rodney hang around in the market (Image: Johan Persson)

A battered yellow Reliant car also turns up and the crowd cheer like a genuine guest star has just arrived.

The dig at the future gentrification of Peckham features as an unnecessary jibe about modern coffee variations and soya milk during Trigger’s (Peter Baker) visionary sequence – its an unlikely thought of that particular era.

However, Trigger was brilliant and encapsulated familiar humour that makes us all love him.  

Del is beaten up by the Driscoll brothers in a scene of sudden brutality, and it’s powerful; it is a welcome anecdote to the humour felt throughout most of the show.

The musical is like witnessing a new episode come alive in front of your eyes which creates a whole new Only Fools experience.

John Sullivan was one of the greatest ever TV writers, but sadly he never got to see the finished product although he some left notes.

His son Jim Sullivan has clearly inherited his dad’s brilliance as he has pulled off a production which reeks Only Fools orginality.

Together with Whitehouse and additional music with Chas Hodges, they reprise the adored tales of South London ‘s most notorious family – The Trotters. 

My verdict? Lovely jubbly!

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