“This time next year, Rodney, we’ll be millionaires!”
Only Fools and Horses: the Musical reinvents the beloved comedy classic for the stage, telling the story of fly trader Del Boy, his brother Rodney, and his grandad, Grandad. As fans of the original sitcom, us two plonkers (Tom and Chris) set off for the West End (not quite Peckham but close enough) to see what this brand new musical had to offer.
The show was thought up by series creator John Sullivan, who unfortunately passed away not long after starting the project. His son, Jim Sullivan, took his dad’s notes, and together with Paul Whitehouse (who stars in the show as Grandad), the show was pieced together, with musical contributions from Chas Hodges.
The show has the difficult task of condensing over 40 hours of TV into just two and a half hours of stage show. The focus is Del Boy (Tom Bennett) and Raquel (Ashleigh Gray) meeting and getting together, with Rodney (Ryan Hutton) and Cassandra’s (Pippa Duffy) impending marriage serving as a subplot. All of the classic moments from the sitcom are there – Del Boy meeting Raquel through a dating agency, before discovering that she works as a stripper (although this occurs during Rodney’s stag do, rather than at Uncle Albert’s birthday as in the TV show).
Other favourite characters from the TV show also appear – Boycie (Jeff Nicholson) and Marlene (Samantha Seager) are trying for a baby, Trigger (Peter Baker) is showing off his trusty broom to the locals and the Driscoll brothers (Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Andrew Bryant) are after Del Boy to repay some long-due debts. Mickey Pearce (Chris Kiely) and Denzil (Adrian Irvine) also appear.
The show is extremely funny, and some memorable moments from the TV series are also recreated (including everyone’s favourite moment where Del Boy falls through the bar, teased throughout the show before paying off in the final moments). There are references to other memorable moments (e.g. Del Boy calling Rodney the “Robin to his Batman” during his best man’s speech), and lots for fans of the sitcom to enjoy.
But does the play work as a musical? Some of the songs felt very shoe-horned in, and altogether quite forgettable. A particularly odd moment sees Trigger sing about his gran’s crystal ball (“Gaze into my Ball”) and sees a future Peckham from 2021, complete with artisan bakeries and rap artists. Other songs fit the tone of the play much better – a great comedy number performed in the dating agency (“Bit of a Sort”) and a funny but touching song between Boycie and Marlene (“The Tadpole Song”). The classic “Only Fools and Horses/Hooky Street” features at both the beginning and end of the play. But overall, I have to wonder whether the show might work better simply as a stage play, rather than a musical. After all, seeing people like Trigger, Grandad and Rodney trying to sing whilst remaining in character was a little bit strange (and it seemed the actors were also struggling with this).
Overall, a very enjoyable afternoon at the theatre – nothing ground-breaking, but all good fun nonetheless. Cushty!
"Only Fools and Horses: The Musical" is currently playing at Theatre Royal Haymarket in London's West End.
Tom Morley, November 2021