Having been an obsessive Blackadder fan since the age of 12, I was very cautious of what to expect from Ooook!’s production of Blackadder III. I wondered whether staging something so iconic in its original format on the screen would make for an effective piece of theatre. Unfortunately, I do believe that such concerns proved to be what prevented Ooook! from delivering a production that fully showcased the talent of those involved. However, they undeniably provided an amusing and fun night out in The Assembly Rooms Theatre.
What was clear from this production was that there was not a weak link in the cast. Yet, it must be acknowledged that the highlight of the evening was undeniably Alex Colville’s energetic and eccentric portrayal of Prince George. Colville commanded the stage throughout and managed to provide great comic humour simply by the way he fell onto the sofa in most of his scenes. His chicken impression was particularly hilarious; it was a fine example of a performance that made one feel grateful to see Colville return to the stage.
Special mention must also go to Tyler Rainford for the role of Edmund Blackadder and Grace Longman as Mr S Baldrick. Both performed their challenging roles with natural ease and they did not fall into the trap of performing impressions of the original actors. This of course resulted in performances that failed to generate the hilarity that Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson managed to do so previously, however this was an impossible challenge from the start. I felt in safe hands, which I believe is the best they possibly could have achieved.
Furthermore, Matt-Elliot Ripley is worthy of great praise for his sheer commitment to his small but memorable supporting characters and Luke Titmuss showcased great comic timing in both of his roles. On the subject of commitment to roles Mikey Bicarregui deserves a special mention – I really did believe his insanity as MacAdder. The tech team also did a sterling job throughout, especially in dealing with comical stage punches with impressively timed sound effects.
However, I personally felt as though there were issues with the staging. While Anna Haines clearly produced a set that allowed numerous rooms to be placed on stage without transforming it every five minutes, there were several awkward scene changes that were easily avoidable. For instance, in some scenes the action moved from the main stage to Blackadders kitchen with no black outs and without a pause. This allowed the pace to continue and was very effective.
Yet, this idea was not used consistently. For instance, there was a very long black out in a scene change involving the curtain falling and placing chairs and characters in Mrs Miggins’ pie shop. As many scenes set away from the main stage did not involve changing the curtain, doing so in this scene added nothing but unnecessary time until when the audience could next enjoy the action. Also, there seemed to be no reason for why the actors and their chairs could not have already been on stage in position before this scene as it would have also prevented such a drop in the pace. Similar problems occurred in scene changes throughout the show, for instance the changes around the Hustings in Act 1. Haines’ use of music when actually utilized was very effective, and if a scene change must be long then I personally believe that it should always be used to enhance the show, music being a potential option. Never hearing the famous Blackadder theme music until the end was a shame, as I believed it would have added to the production.
Haines stated that she wanted to present a production that went further than her actors doing impressions of the original cast and she certainly achieved this. But the issue here is that it is both literally impossible for her actors to live up to the original performances, or to cast new light upon them.
The main problem that dogged this production was that there is ultimately little room to maneuver within the original performance of this script. Merely replicating the original would be impossible as Rowan Atkinson does not attend Durham University. Unfortunately the show is so iconic in its original format that it’s impossible not to compare the two and so one of the two shall always be less fulfilling. Haines added beautiful new touches that only a great mind could think of such as Max Lindon’s appearance throughout that differed from the original. However, the fact that there were not many different moments such as this proves that this team were unable to extrapolate much new from this script – if it had been possible, I trust Haines to have found it.
Therefore, I do question the choice of choosing a beloved sitcom as the base of what so much hard work has gone into. Had I not had the original performance stuck in my mind, and had seen such talent for comedy put into a script created for the stage, I’ve no doubt such a post exam indulgence in silly fun would have blown me away rather than just being fun and entertaining. With the sheer talent involved, I would personally prefer to see them challenged with a show that could allow them to push themselves and achieve greater heights. I’ve no doubt they’ll get there; it’s just a matter of time.