Theatre Review: THE GOOD LIFE – The Lowry, Salford

Rufus Hound as Tom in THE GOOD LIFE

Rufus Hound as Tom in THE GOOD LIFE. Photo Credit: Dan Tsantilis

A strong cast performance and delightful staging help to keep THE GOOD LIFE engaging, even if the comedy fails to generate the genuine belly laughs that the original generated

3 out of 5 stars

With sustainability and climate change high on the UK’s agenda, you can see why Adapter and Director Jeremy Sams decided to bring THE GOOD LIFE to the stage. After all, if the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of self-sufficiency.

Yet, this stage version of Bob Larbey and John Esmonde’s beloved sitcom is far from contemporary. Instead, Sams opts to keep the comedy firmly set in the 1970s, in part to pay homage to the much-loved characters but also to honour his love for good old-fashioned humour.

Based on the hit television series starring Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal, THE GOOD LIFE follows Tom (Rufus Hound) and Barbara Good (Sally Tatum), who attempt to escape a modern “rat race” lifestyle by becoming totally self-sufficient in their suburban house.

Rufus Hound, Dominic Rowan, Preeya Kalidas and Sally Tatum in THE GOOD LIFE

Rufus Hound, Dominic Rowan, Preeya Kalidas & Sally Tatum in THE GOOD LIFE. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

As they plough up their garden to turn it into an allotment and install chickens, pigs and a goat named Geraldine, they face conflict from their snooty next-door neighbours Jerry (Dominic Rowan) and Margo Leadbetter (Preeya Kalidas), pushing their friendship to its limits.

Best described as a sequence of set-pieces, the two-hour play takes its storylines from original THE GOOD LIFE TV episodes Mutiny, Pig’s Lib and The Weaker Sex.

In one scene, Barbara attempts to milk an animatronic goat. In another, the group scramble to revive a dying piglet with the help of a milkman, a doctor, and a policeman, all played with aplomb by Nigel Betts and Tessa Churchyard.

As Tom, Rufus Hound doesn’t try to go head-to-head with the late Richard Briers but instead brings his own interpretation to the role. His performance is strong, comical, and entertaining, but his character isn’t all that likeable, making you wonder why Barbara (played by the excellent Sally Tatum) continues to put up with his frequent “knobby” behaviour.

Dominic Rowan shines as the browbeaten yet ambitious Jerry, but it is Preeya Kalidas who steals the show as Margo. Performing with verve and panache, Kalidas’ portrayal is outrageously obtuse and absurdly self-centred, honouring Penelope Keith’s original portrayal of the character and delivering some of the play’s best comic moments.

Shame then that THE GOOD LIFE lacks the development, emotional significance or genuine belly laughs that the original generated. Some of the comedy falls a little flat, and elements of the script – most notably the mocking of June “with the large breasts” and the snooty disrespect for self-sufficiency – feel woefully out of date.

Dominic Rowan as Jerry and Preeya Kalidas as Margo in THE GOOD LIFE

Dominic Rowan as Jerry and Preeya Kalidas as Margo in THE GOOD LIFE. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

That said, there are some laughs to be had, the dinner-party scene that closes the first half standing out as a highlight.

The staging is also well-executed. Michael Taylor’s revolving set and costume design is a delight to watch, cleverly capturing the contrast between the Goods’ blue country-style kitchen and the smarter, more expensively furnished living room of the Leadbetter household.

This is backed up by Mark Henderson’s lighting design, which lends a sunny air to the piece, and Fergus O’Hare’s sitcom-esque sound design, complete with a pastiche of THE GOOD LIFE theme tune, all of which keep the production bubbling along.

If you’re a fan of the original TV series, you’re sure to find some enjoyment in taking a trip down memory lane with THE GOOD LIFE, even if the comedy fails to generate the laughter that once carried the TV series to its iconic status.

THE GOOD LIFE runs at The Lowry, Salford, until 30 October 2021