It’s a risky business emulating one of the best-loved sitcoms of all time. But this isn’t new territory for Interactive Theatre International, the Fringe veteran company that brought us (and continues to bring us) the hit: Faulty Towers The Dining Experience.
As dinner theatre, Only Fools presents an issue. Unlike Faulty Towers, there’s no natural scenario for the backdrop of a restaurant. Instead, we’re invited to a pub quiz with dinner, at the Nag’s Head. And the beauty of this is that we’re served in true 1980s Peckham style (pre-South London gentrification and wealthy hipster take-over). Rodney grumpily throws out bread rolls to diners (don’t worry, he uses tongs), while Trigger plonks soup on tables and Boycie delivers plates of food.
It’s packed with well-written tropes, phrases and subtle bits from the series – and it follows Only Fools and Horses’ familiar pathos in the night’s story arc. For those who spent a decade watching and re-watching every episode, it’s a total joy, and this production pays warm homage to it beautifully. If you’re not a fan, you might not appreciate these intricacies, although it’s still a great laugh.
However, it’s Nick Moon’s portrayal of Delboy that offers the most authenticity – it’s nothing short of uncanny. Derek Trotter is a national treasure, and Moon does a truly fantastic job of capturing not only his essence but every nuance of his voice and body language. And copying a character with a pre-rehearsed script, syllable by syllable is one thing, but the cast improvises and interacts too – and he remains utterly believable, and very funny throughout. Nick Moon also plays Uncle Albert, proving his impersonation abilities to be brilliant yet again.
Daniel Hope plays a police officer, Trigger and Boycie. All are droll characters, yet he has us laughing as much as Moon. His asides are fantastic, and Hope creates a fantastic rapport with the audience often with just a look or throwaway improvised comment. He’s totally credible and manages to be understated, yet a commanding presence in the room – the mark of an excellent immersive player.
Katherine Mary as Cassandra/Marlene interacts well with the audience and raises plenty of laughs. But she gives the impression of performing, especially as Cassandra, rather than really inhabiting the characters in the way Hope and Moon do. Lawrence Watling is an amusing and energetic Rodney but seems miscast. He also seems to have less of an audience rapport than the others.
Only Fools the Cushty Dining Experience is a fully immersive, innovative and interactive, not only with the cast but with others at the table. This makes it a sociable experience, unlike most other shows at the Fringe. To some extent, your table guests will impact how much you enjoy it – most attendees seem to be enthusiastic and totally up for some fun though. Expect to get involved, in gentle, silly and gleefully chaotic style – the actors aren’t at all coercive or forceful when it comes to audience participation. It’s all very good-natured.
It’s one of the most expensive shows at the Fringe, balanced by it being more than double the length of the average. even so, it needs to be very good to justify the high price. A loosely themed pub grub dinner is included, but it’s not great (although the portions are large, so you won’t go hungry).
But don’t come for the food. Come for the fun, the genuine nostalgia of the era and the TV show and for the unique experience of feeling like you’ve actually had an evening in the company of Derek Trotter and co.
You can see Only Fools the Cushty Dining Experience at Imagination Workshop from 6th – 26th August (except Wednesdays) at 20:30. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com