Last night we attended a production of Only Fools & Horses at the Royal Haymarket Theatre in London’s West End. It was 90 degrees in London yesterday so I was somewhat dreading seeing a show in a theatre that was originally built in 1720. But I was delighted to find that not only was the theatre air conditioned, the air conditioning worked well enough to keep you cool — not something I can say for many of the older theatres in London!
Being American, I had never heard of Only Fools & Horses until I saw the advertisements in the tube stations. But an English friend soon explained it all to me. It’s a British TV sitcom that originally was broadcast from 1981 to 1991 with Christmas shows continuing through to 2003. The show was an amazingly popular one and still shows reruns on a regular basis. Wikipedia says that a 1996 episode holds the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom episode with 24.3 million viewers. That’s pretty darn amazing when you consider that the UK only had about 58 million people in 1996!
Before I went to see the theatre production, I spent a few hours watching the series so that I’d understand the story line. The show itself is about a man named Derek (nicknamed Del Boy), his brother Rodney and their Grandad. Grandad passed away in 1984 and they replaced his character with Uncle Albert. The show is set in southeast London with Del Boy and his brother engaged in market trading — buying or acquiring anything they can find and reselling it for a profit, not always legally.
Normally when you attend a London theatre production, it will be a relatively respectable, quiet event and the audience will be of all nationalities, many of whom will be tourists splurging on a show at one of the 230+ professional theatres in London. Not so last night. Last night was a crowd that was very distinctly British and a bit raucous. It was humorous to me to see a well-dressed theatre crowd guffawing and cheering and whistling when the show reproduced some of the iconic series moments.
If you haven’t watched much of the series, you likely will walk away disappointed. The story line isn’t nearly as robust as most of the London theatre performances and it may leave you feeling like they stitched a bunch of scenes together with a focus on nostalgia rather than storytelling. I missed a lot of the innuendo and story line references and had to have them explained afterward. But if you are a fan of the series or you want to see a British audience let their hair down, I highly recommend it!