Since I was very young Blackadder has been my favourite comedy show. The antics of the various members of the Blackadder family throughout history is one of Britain’s best loved comedies and for good reason.
The latest Chameleon Theatre production brought to life the show’s most beloved series – Blackadder Goes Forth, which sees Captain Edmund Blackadder desperate to escape the trenches of World War One.
Unfortunately for him everyone around him is stupid, mad or, in the case of his superior officer General Melchett, both. The series sees Blackadder snark, plan and plot his way through out of the trenches.
Three episodes of the series were adapted, with the first episode, Captain Cook opening the show.
“I have a bullet with your name on it”
The first scene sets the stage perfectly. Baldrick is carving his name into a bullet under the assumption that someone will not be able to kill him otherwise due to the popular saying “I have a bullet with your name on it”. This pitch black gallows humour is a staple of the show and it’s a big part of Goes Forth, and it has to be with the subject matter.
The first episode sees Blackadder try to escape the trenches by offering to paint for the war magazine. My favourite scene of this part comes when Blackadder abuses his position of power and tries to pretend that George’s painting is his. This ends up backfiring on him when Melchett reveals that the plan was to actually find a war painter to paint the enemy trenches.
This is a perfect opening act and episode – the rivalry between Blackadder and Darling is established, Baldrick and George are suitably dumb and Melchett is a perfect blend of insane and dangerous. There are too many memorable lines and exchanges, with the map exchange between Blackadder and George in the trenches being a highlight.
Blackadder Goes Forth – Painting in No Man’s land
Baldrick was the object of a lot of audience sympathy
The restrictions of the stage meant that the episode locations all had to be somewhat condensed into a single set but this worked very well, allowing the audience to be closer to the characters. Baldrick was the object of a lot of audience sympathy as Blackadder frequently mocked him.
The next act was the third episode, Major Star.
In this episode, Blackadder is in charge of putting on a show to keep the soldier’s moral up after Russia pulls out of the war. As I am studying the Russian Revolution in history I have gained a new-found appreciation for some of the jokes in this episode – I love how Baldrick gets inspired by revolutionary ideals and how George mistakes the Russians as being on the enemy side.
Blackadder’s dislike of Charlie Chaplin
Another fun running gag is Blackadder’s dislike of Charlie Chaplin. This is funny because Chaplin is one of Rowan Atkinson’s biggest comedic influences. Charlie Chaplin was making films across both world wars and it’s a clear sign of his legacy that he moved from silent films to “talkies across decades.
Blackadder’s attitude in this episode is hilarious as he isn’t trying anything too difficult to escape this time, but the situation spirals out of control as usual when Melchett falls for “Georgina”, otherwise known as George doing a soldier’s drag act.
Melchett for Georgina! – Blackadder – BBC
The close intimacy of the stage with the audience was great
Once again the close intimacy of the stage with the audience was great as the audience were equally amused as to the utter stupidity of Melchett as Blackadder was. This results in the iconic scene where Melchett is preparing for his evening dance and Darling, well… it’s best to see the scene as it is too funny to describe.
I loved how the minimalist sets of the stage enhanced this particular part of the evening as it was easy to split the stage up into simple set pieces.
With no options left Blackadder decides to feign madness
The third and final act was the adaptation of the iconic final episode, Goodbyeee. With no options left Blackadder decides to feign madness. It’s from this simple premise that one of the finest episodes of television emerges. To this day I still have not seen a better explanation of the First World War than the legendary scene when Blackadder, with underpants on his head and pencils in his nose, dissects the origins of how the war started with hilarious accuracy.
At the time of the episode’s release, the discussion of “two opposing power blocks” also related to the then current fears of the Cold War and the escalation of tensions between the US and the USSR.
Blackadder How did World War I Begin
This section of the performance contains many of Blackadder’s most iconic moments such as Melchett sending Darling to the trench and the perfect final scene that has gone down in history.
Goodbyee is the perfect end to Blackadder on both stage and screen
After six episodes of ever darkening gallows humour, to end the series on a completely serious note was appropriate. On stage, the ending was equally effective, with the curtains drawing and the poem In Flander’s Fields being shown over the stage whilst the characters were slowly shown advancing. It was probably the ending scene that propelled Blackadder from a great comedy to a legendary television series.
All in all, Goodbyee is the perfect end to Blackadder on both stage and screen.
Good Luck Everyone – Blackadder – BBC
The episodes were adapted brilliantly
In conclusion, as a huge Blackadder fan I really enjoyed the evening. The episodes were adapted brilliantly and all the things that made them work were present.
If you were in any doubt as to why Blackadder Goes Forth is still relevant then the timing of this performance a few weeks before Remembrance Day- would have reminded you. The satire of figures in authority abusing their positions of power are still relevant today and it’s clear that Blackadder will never age.