Doctor in the House - Grand Theatre, Blackpool
How times have changed since Gordon Ostliere took on the pen name of Richard Gordon and came up with the book which went on to become the biggest UK film hit of 1954 and prompted his departure from the medical profession.
When James Robertson Justice played the insufferably pompous chief surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt (designed to be said quickly) and demanded an answer to the medical question “what’s the bleeding time” audiences rolled in the aisles at the near the knuckle double entendre as the naïve intern Simon Sparrow (the about to be a star Dirk Bogarde) replied “10 past 10.”
It’s not Robert Powell or Phillip Langhorne’s fault in recreating those roles that the joke doesn’t have quite the same saucy impact these days (and the time has been changed to 6.30!) but it’s surprising how much of the humour has managed to remain fresh – even though student life has undergone such a seismic metamorphosis.
Much of the reason for that is down to Joe Pasquale as Tony Grimsdyke (originally played by Kenneth More – but then called Richard), an eternal medical trainee constantly failing his final examinations for fear of losing a family endowment only valid whilst he remains a student.
Pasquale is in and out of character so often there are times when he seems to have just wandered on stage from his one man show and joined in the proceedings – but the audience adores his well rehearsed ad libs and supposed impromptu moments.
Whilst much of the original film – and subsequent television series – took place in a fictitious hospital, for the sake of speed and convenience the action in this stage play is transported entirely to a Steptoe & Son style cluttered student house.
The plot has been stripped to the bone (a previous possessive romantic interest has been abandoned in favour of a barking mad, marriage hungry nurse out to snare Simon, whilst Tony’s almost live-in (it’s 1954 after all) girlfriend Vera (the attractive Emma Barton) has the kind of French accent which gives Allo Allo a good name.
Powell clearly revels in his role, reviving the comic timing previously seen in The Detectives and couples it with almost endearing bombast.
But it’s Pasquale’s night – even without too much emphasis on his usually “distinctive” voice he’s still the centre of attraction whenever on stage.