IMAGE CREDIT: A very big thank you to Stuart Wineberg and The Chameleons for kind permission to use the images in this post.
I’m delighted to review the Chameleons’ latest production – Blackadder Goes Forth.
One thing I’ll mention now because it has been bugging me. Why does the Chandler’s Ford War Memorial say 1914-1919 on it! I always believed the war ended in 1918! Is there a reason for this? If anyone knows the answer to that one, please do write in!
The set, created by the company, was impressive and took you straight into the trenches of World War One. The amount of detail was incredible from the maps on the wall, the field telephone (complete with leather box), places to put helmets, the camp beds, the ladders (ready for use when the men get the call to go over the top) etc.
Given there is not a lot of room on the Ritchie Hall stage, this was a great accomplishment! A huge amount of work went into this. I was told the bare bones of the set were put up and then with each rehearsal bits were added on. It worked well.
Three episodes from the classic last series of Blackadder were performed – Captain Cook, Major Star, and Goodbyeee. More on the production shortly.
Captain Cook – When General Haig unveils his new strategy to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin, Blackadder volunteers to be Official War Artist.
Major Star – The Russian Revolution produces two more appalling results: an offensive by Germany and a really offensive Charlie Chaplin impression by Baldrick.
Goodbyeee – Millions have died but the troops have advanced no further than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping. Now, at last, the final big push looms…
I’ve long been a fan of Blackadder but, by far, the best series was the last one – Blackadder Goes Forth. It had humour, pathos, and tragedy and the characters represented those who did fight for King and Country in World War One.
It was hard not to sympathise with Blackadder’s wish to do anything to get out of the trenches and get back to Blighty. Given what we now know of what the fighting men faced, it would’ve been mad to NOT try to get out of there. As well as the horrors of the actual fighting, how many of us could have faced things like trench foot? Word of Warning: There are some graphic pictures of trench foot in the link to the article about it.
The final scene of the final episode in Blackadder Goes Forth is heartbreaking, a wonderful tribute to those who did fight in World War 1, and works as beautifully in audio as it did on the TV series. On the TV version, you see our heroes finally go over the top. On the audio, you hear them. It is an incredibly moving piece of writing with visuals (for TV) and music (for audio) used to powerful effect. Do check out the audio version if you haven’t done so. I think it works incredibly well. As did the way the Chameleons produced this “final moment”.
Here the four main characters of Blackadder, Darling, George, and Baldrick were shown going over the top, they are returning fire, and then instead of falling (which I’d expected) they turned their backs on the audience to indicate they had gone. A curtain dropped down with lightshows of poppies over it and at the top In Flanders Field was screened a line at a time. The room was totally silent. Appropriately so too. The impact of this final scene cannot be overstated.
Well done, Chameleons, it was a beautiful and thoughtful way of performing that final iconic scene.
(Blackadder Goes Forth has rightly gone down as No. 16 in the 100 Greatest British TV programmes and it wouldn’t surprise me if so much of that accolade is due to this final episode and that scene in particular). I was also pleased to see that money raised from the Chameleons’ raffles held during the week of this production was going to the Royal British Legion. (For the rest of their year, the Chameleons will be raising funds for the excellent One Community).
The scripts for the performance were adapted by the director, Gillian Wilkins, and included the well known and loved lines (especially Blackadder’s sarcastic comments to Baldrick). The very special coffee made by Baldrick using what he could find also made an appearance (in Goodbyeee) and made everyone wince – as indeed was the idea. If you would like to look up the “ingredients” for Baldrick’s coffee, you would find out why it was a good idea to switch to something even he couldn’t adapt – water! Also, why you never accept his cappucino or his offer to find “chocolate bits” for the top of said “drink”.
Another nice feature in the Ritchie Hall itself was out in the “bar” area where there was a lovely board display with items relating to World War One and Remembrance and there was a poppy display around the mirror in the kitchen area too.
One of the great strengths of Blackadder Goes Forth was the way it mocked those in authority. This is a longstanding tradition. Some have said the portrayal of Haig is too harsh, the Germans were also throwing men in huge numbers at machine guns, but the implicit questioning of the way things were done is no bad thing. Would we ever fight a war like this now? No. Do things like Blackadder Goes Forth contribute to the recognition of post traumatic stress disorder as we know it now? I hope so. Maybe in his own way Blackadder was being courageous for daring to think differently.
What I do know is it is highly unusual for a comedy to end on tragedy as Blackadder Goes Forth does (and I believe the entire series is studied as part of the school curriculum now). The Chameleons managed to capture the wonderful TV series, condense it without losing anything important, and act it out with dignity and humour. Not an easy feat. Below is from the original TV series.
Well done, everyone. Am not surprised this was a sell-out run. It deserved nothing less.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.