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Phil Willmott

Review: ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES at The Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Only Fools and Horses the Musical They seem an odd match, the opulent, elegant Theatre Royal, Haymarket and the BBC TV comedy Only Fools and Horses which dominated the television schedules in the late 1980s.

Sartorial elegance was never a feature of the larger than life antics of its lovable community of London crooks led by the wheeler-dealer Del Boy and his gormless younger brother Rodney aided and abetted by their decrepit granddad. But It was all penned by master sit-com writer John Sullivan and the craft behind his comedy was certainly elegant. The show is fondly remembered for a number of cracking jokes and especially slapstick routines that are often repeated in compilation shows.

A much loved British institution then so it was only a matter of time before someone had the idea of making it into a stage show. That someone is Jim Sullivan son of the late writer who has teamed up with comedian Paul Whitehouse to produce a West End musical, starring Whitehouse in the cameo role of Granddad.

This kind of show is critic proof. It was always going to sell well, packing out with irregular theatre goers attracted by seeing their favourite TV characters on stage and they won’t be disappointed.

The current cast do a fantastic job of embodying the spirit of the stars who originally played the roles. Tom Bennett is particularly impressive as Del Boy, channelling all his predecessor David Jason’s idiosyncrasies and immaculate comic timing whilst also bringing musical theatre skills to the mix.

The plot combines several of the most beloved Only Fools scenarios but principally centres around Del Boy's attempts to find love but it also manages to incorporate a nod to the chandelier sequence and the leaning on the bar gag that fans will remember.

It’s easy to be snobby about the songs which are an odd mix of eighties hits, cockney sing-a-longs and lack lustre original compositions but a big production number based on the TV theme tune is a joy as is a number which predicts the gentrification East London has endured since the programme was made.

Dianne Pilkington, as Del's prospective girl friend Raquel, will be familiar to musical theatre fans from her long stint in WICKED and she brings enormous warmth and charisma to the role so we needn't worry too much about the shallow way women were portrayed in 80's popular culture. Ryan Hutton is suitably lugubrious and adorable as younger brother, Rodney.

If you loved the original you’ll love this but if you never experienced it, it’ll leave you baffled and you should probably pick another show to see. Not that you’ll be able to get a ticket anytime soon. The fans have snapped them all up.