Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: THE GOOD LIFE, Theatre Royal Bath

The TV sitcom classic comes to the stage, starring comedian Rufus Hound

Review: THE GOOD LIFE, Theatre Royal Bath

Review: THE GOOD LIFE, Theatre Royal Bath Are we returning to the 1970s - the decade that witnessed strikes, power cuts, an energy crisis, three-day week, financial crash, inflation at nearly 30% and three million families living in poverty?

It certainly appears so with our current fuel and toy shortages, soaring energy prices, lack of lorry drivers and other workers, catastrophic National Health Service, anticipated inflation rate rises and deepening disparity between rich and poor.

Plus, thanks to the pandemic, many of us now want to grow our own food, live simpler lives - and save the planet along the way. While the 70s generation grew mung beans, fashioned macrame plant hangers and kept chickens, the 2020s counterpart nurtures sourdough starter, applauds 'cottage core' (celebration of the purity of the outdoors) on TikTok and rescues chickens - just like Harry and Megan.

So, it couldn't be more timely that the iconic 70s British TV sitcom, The Good Life - attracting 21 million viewers at its peak in 1977 - now comes to theatres. Originally written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, and starring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith, the stage version kicks off at the Theatre Royal Bath and then tours.

In this adaptation by Jeremy Sams, who also directs, Tom Good (played warmly by Rufus Hound), designer of plastic toys in cereal boxes, has a midlife crisis on his 40th birthday. "We do things we don't like to buy things we don't need," he laments. Tom quits his job and decides he should become totally self-sufficient with his wife Barbara (an appealing Sally Tatum) at their suburban Surbiton home.

To the dismay of neighbours Jerry (enthusiastically portrayed by Dominic Rowan) and Margo Leadbetter (enacted by Preeya Kalidas with superb comic timing), the Goods plough up their gardens to turn them into allotments and install chickens, pigs and a goat named Geraldine (a scene-stealing puppet designed and built by Leigh Cranston, with help from puppet consultant Matthew Forbes).

Chaos ensues. Tom and Barbara shiver in their unheated property, get bored of repetitive omelette and lettuce suppers, and bicker about which one of them allowed Geraldine to escape. Jerry tries to entice Tom back to work and Margo upsets Barbara by offering her designer hand-me-downs.

Sams sticks resolutely to his decision to cement the play in the age of the Austin Allegro, garish wallpaper and outlandish hairdos. Perhaps he could have lent the production more contemporary references, but as a period piece the play generally succeeds. However, a subplot which wouldn't have been allowed in the TV scripts involves Harry the Pigman (played with gusto by Oliver Hewett, who also takes on the roles of Sir, Policeman and Dr Joe) spiking a poppyseed cake with marijuana, leading to slapstick mayhem at the Leadbetters' houseparty and Sir's wife Felicity (given humour and depth by Tessa Churchard) dancing vampishly with Tom.

Set and costume designer Michael Taylor's revolving scenery cleverly captures the contrast between the Goods' blue country-style kitchen ­- with its inevitable Aga and pine units - and the smarter pink floral wallpaper, expensive dining table and gleaming silver in the Leadbetter household. And he kits out the cast with 70s panache: Margo's wide-legged pantsuit and dangly earrings, Jerry's green velvet jacket and bow tie, Barbara's dungarees and homespun green jumper, and Tom's workaday jeans and cap. It's worth the price of admission alone to see Margo in her sultry, white tennis kit that she hopes will attract coach Pablo at the club.

Sound designer Fergus O'Hare's sitcom-esque music, complete with a pastiche of The Good Life theme tune, keeps the production bubbling along. Lighting by Mark Henderson lends a sunny air and movement director Jane McMurtrie ably choreographs the dance scene at the Leadbetter party and other set-pieces.

For all the cracking comedy lines, which had the audience chuckling away, jokes about busty June at the office felt uncomfortably old-fashioned and tone-deaf post-#MeToo. And some references, such as to TV chef Fanny Cradock and husband Johnnie, might not be understood by younger audiences. But descriptions of period food and drink - black forest gateau, chicken Kiev and Mateus rosé, all making a comeback these days - should hit the mark.

Today's audiences will also relate to the sentiment of rejecting corporate drudgery in favour of new beginnings. A touching and tense scene in the second act, where the cast bands together to revive a newborn ailing piglet, reflects how neighbours helped one another during lockdown. The programme actually predicted the rise of the slow food movement and how people like Tom and Barbara wanted to do their own thing. Now, employees are working from home more and cultivating their own thriving variety of The Good Life.

A feel-good psychedelic 70s trip.

The Good Life at Theatre Royal Bath until 16 October, then continues on tour;

Photo credit: Dan Tsantilis

Photos: See Aimee Lou Wood & More in Rehearsals for CABARET Photo
Get a first look at Aimee Lou Wood, John McCrea and Nathan Ives-Moiba in rehearsals for CABARET at the Kit Kat Club!

Christina Bianco Makes Pheasantry Concert Debut
in London Next Month Photo
Internationally acclaimed singer, actor and impressionist, Christina Bianco makes her Pheasantry debut with her first solo concert in over a year.  

Tickets from £30 for MEDEA Starring Sophie Okonedo Photo
What could turn a woman from a lover into a destroyer of love?

Drag Cast Announced For ACIDS REIGN at VAULT Festival Photo
Relish Theatre brings a new drag cabaret play about the climate crisis and its impact on the queer community to the world-famous VAULT Festival.  From award-winning writer James McDermott (Eastenders; Time and Tide, Park Theatre), with musical direction from Olivier-nominated Joe Beighton (SIX: The Musical), Acid’s Reign will debut at VAULT Festival at their new 125 seat cabaret venue The Flair Ground.

From This Author - Cheryl Markosky

Hooked on theatre when a student usher at Theatre Calgary in her native Canada, Cheryl champions not only London's West End, but also regional venues. Splitting her time between Londo... (read more about this author)

2022 Year in Review: Cheryl Markosky's Best of 2022 - and Picks for 2023!2022 Year in Review: Cheryl Markosky's Best of 2022 - and Picks for 2023!
January 1, 2023

One of my favourite theatrical moments of the year at Theatre Royal Bath was Into the Woods: a trippy version of Stephen Sondheim's musical, thanks to Terry Gilliam's surreal Monty Python-esque imagination. This mind-bending show deserves space in the West End soon.

Review: TALKING HANDS, StreamingReview: TALKING HANDS, Streaming
December 12, 2022

Actions can speak louder than words - a proverb that's especially relevant with the new release of Deafinitely Theatre's final two films of its Talking Hands series.

Review: HEAR MYSELF THINK Podcast, Series 2Review: HEAR MYSELF THINK Podcast, Series 2
November 18, 2022

During lockdown, Hear Myself Think's mini audio-theatre podcasts exploring mental health offered solace to listeners in more than 25 countries. Coming from diverse perspectives, they're aimed at communities less likely to get support for mental health issues.

Review: DIDO AND AENEAS, Theatre Royal BathReview: DIDO AND AENEAS, Theatre Royal Bath
October 21, 2022

It's a double first at Theatre Royal Bath with Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Regarded as England's first opera when initially performed around 1688, it's also the first opera to be performed in the intimate Ustinov Studio.

Review: GOOD LUCK, STUDIO, Salisbury PlayhouseReview: GOOD LUCK, STUDIO, Salisbury Playhouse
October 19, 2022

Mischief's new catastrophe comedy, Good Luck, Studio, goes very wrong - but perhaps not in the way the Mischief team intended.