The one where three icons of 90’s television reform live on stage?
1989 home across the UK had the famous Irving Berlin tune “What’ll I do” sung by Berlin himself, rang out in living rooms and remained stuck in the heads of viewers for 102 episodes, spread across nine years! Birds of a Feather was a TV sitcom that charted the lives of Sharon and Tracy, two friends brought together as their husbands had been jailed for armed robbery, and their sex craved upper class neighbour Dorien Green, played by Lesley Joseph. The last episode of this ground breaking show, ground breaking as it was the first production aired by the BBC to feature the lives of three women, aired on Christmas eve 1998.
Fourteen years later, a team of producers have struck lucky, and I am sat in Richmond Theatre awaiting Birds of a Feather – Live on Stage. Following recent 90’s stage adaptations of Keeping up Appearances and Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, Birds of a Feather offers something that these previous adaptations have failed to offer… the original line up live in the flesh. As a result the air is of excitement in the theatre foyer is electric as an eclectic mix of pensioners and mid-twenty something’s file in to take their place.
“This could be a disaster” my companion leaned over, but as soon as the original opening credits projected on the curtain began, they had the audience in the palm of their hands. Pauline Quirke revives her role as Sharon, a much slimmer figure of her former self in the 90s but still wearing the oversized t-shirts and baggy trousers Sharon is known for, Linda Robson steps back into the role of Tracy, and it’s like we’ve never been away. The great thing about this production is that the writing team, Gary Lawson and John Phelps, with original sitcom writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, have kept the characters true to who they are. There’s no radical changes to how they act, talk, what they say, it’s literally like we are catching up with old friends.
Quirke has her comic timing down to a fine art delivering some of the best and most scathing bitchy lines to her co-stars to roars of laughter from the audience. Robson plays Tracy who over the years has grown to be an over protective mother who has spun a whole load of lies to her son, played by Robson's actual son in rotation with Quirke’s son, in order to keep him from knowing the truth about his father… watch the lie unravel with great hilarity.
Lesley Joseph enters the stage amidst jokes about her age as the fabulous Dorien Green. Sporting a tight mini dress, with huge locks of bouffant black hair, the audience woops with applause as her quick fire wit shoots down Sharon as quick as Sharon sent her the abuse. Twenty minutes in the audience get the frame they were waiting for, all three women brought together.
The show isn’t going to change the world, but the writing, which is very topical and fresh up to date is bursting at the seams with line after line of good comic talent. The nature of the production feels like a natural progression to the existing story, but I would argue that a new comer to the world of Birds of a Feather would enjoy the antics of three older ladies getting themselves out of a potential murder plot and family dramas.
The key to this production is that they haven’t messed with a formula that works, and the result is an audience who leave the theatre beaming after a good evening of well executed entertainment. Go see it for a trip down memory lane, or to enjoy some good laughs at a comedy that is current and will have you smiling all the way home.