MY WEEK (July 10, 2014): Success for sitcom’s stage adaptation

Rising Damp
Rising Damp

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being born earlier.

I was born in the mid ’80s and it’s fascinating to think about what life was like for people a decade or so before I arrived.

So, I was happy to see Rising Damp at The Capitol, Horsham, on Monday, July 7. The production is a stage adaptation of the ITV sitcom that ran from 1974 to 1978. It’s set in a seedy boarding house, run by the grubby Rupert Rigsby.

Paul Morse is likeable as the timid and idealistic medical student Alan. He means well, but he’s a tad naive, which allows Philip, a laid back and mischievous black student, to toy with Alan for his own amusement. Philip (played by the accomplished Chris Charles) convinces Alan that he’s the son of a chief in Africa and possesses ten wives when, in reality, Philip was born in Croydon.

Jokes aside, Philip is able to teach Alan a thing or two about women, confidently guiding the shy young man through the world of dating.

In fact, the banter about girls is a useful way into the story for a younger audience. The sitcom may have been made in the ’70s but this show reminds us that, while fashions have changed (thank goodness), the average ‘lad’ definitely hasn’t.

Rising Damp isn’t a ‘boys only’ production, though. Airlie Scott offers a great comic performance as Miss Jones, a woman who escapes reality through hilarious melodrama. A moment when she loudly declares that she has been “betrayed” is delivered with great comic timing.

However, the star of this show is definitely Stephen Chapman as Rigsby. The actor keeps the bigoted landlord likable despite the character’s greasy comb-over and his ability to see something wrong with every minority. Sure, he’s prejudiced but it’s not in an overtly nasty way. It’s more down to ignorance and dim-wittedness. There’s also a sense that Rigsby is genuinely trying to be friendly, but can’t escape his own limited way of thinking.

Rigsby’s desperation makes it easier for the audience to sympathise with him. He longs for a woman – namely Miss Jones – but he’s so clueless that he thinks that erogenous zones are located “somewhere near the equator”.

Stephen’s physical performance is good too. A stand-out moment involves Rigsby stumbling around ridiculously after getting hit in an impromptu boxing match.

Rising Damp isn’t a perfect play. It’s a little slow to start and, frankly, the seedy setting can be a bit depressing. However, while some may argue that this production could never compete with the original TV series, the stage version of Rising Damp is still a successful comedy and a fascinating look at a different era.