Recycling a 70s television comedy classic
The Good Life at the Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday, November 2 to Saturday, November 6. Review by Jon Lewis
In the week of Cop26 in Glasgow producers Fiery Angel toured its production of John Esmonde and Bob Larbey’s classic television comedy The Good Life, which ran from 1975 to 1978, to the Oxford Playhouse. Written and directed by Jeremy Sams, the central theme of living sustainably and within our means feels even more pertinent today as it did after the oil crisis that preceded the first series.
Sams’ adaptation is in four episodes: Tom and Barbara Good (Rufus Hound and Sally Tatum) give up on the rat race and turn their house and garden into an urban farm; neighbours Jerry and Margo (Dominic Rowan and Preeya Kalidas) hold a party where the Goods’ visitor Harry the Pigman (Nigel Betts) takes umbrage at Margo’s posh condescension and spikes their poppy seed cakes with weed leading to a much more jolly evening and Jerry’s boss’s wife Felicity (Tessa Churchard) lets her hair down; the life of the runt of a pig litter is saved with the help of the milk deliverer, a policeman, a doctor and his assistant (Betts and Churchard making quick costume changes) and Margo makes the best of her disastrous performance as the lead in an amateur dramatic production of The Sound of Music.
One scene best reflects the writers’ rejection of rampant consumerism: Margo takes pity on Barbara and gives her a new dress. Barbara wants to return it as she won’t take charity. Tom convinces Barbara to keep the dress, repurposing it as something to ward off the birds on their new scarecrow. His boldness is linked to his rash resignation from a job in commerce where he designed plastic toys to put into cereal boxes. Their good life comes with compromises that lead to community isolation, so their relationship with Jerry and Margo becomes central to their standing in middle class suburbia.
The performances are enchanting, even if the plot is somewhat thin and the cast does its best not to imitate the original foursome. There may be more smiles than belly laughs and the comedy is definitely recycled, but it’s a nice piece of escapism.