The latest BBC Scotland comedy to be turned into a big stage show, after Still Game and Burnistoun, and prior to Rab C Nesbitt’s adaptation at the Hydro, Gary: Tank Commander is disappointingly the least effective of the transfers so far. Greg McHugh has performed panto and his perma-tanned, endearingly daft squaddie is easily big and glowingly camp enough to command an arena. Featuring production values that arguably surpass the television series, which shot its Iraqi and Afghan bases in Scottish quarries, Mission Quite Possible lights up the exterior of the Hydro in military green and brown and serves Gary’s beloved cheesy pasta in the foyer’s foodstands. Most impressively, it opens with a helicopter scene to rival Miss Saigon’s.
Gary, Tank Commander - Mission Quite Possible **
The Hydro, Glasgow
Otherwise though, McHugh and director Simon Hynd have been too faithful to the series. The YouTube sequences of Gary and his tank crew (Robert Jack, Scott Fletcher and Paul James Corrigan) recreating pop hits by Destiny’s Child and the like were sharply edited on TV to intersperse with and emphasise the boredom of camp life. But in real time they’re less explicable and only seem to be bridging holes in the script. Worse, the show belatedly begins recycling some of Gary’s monologues from the series, while a hallucinatory dream sequence recalls a similar moment in the Still Game live revival. None of the musical interludes warrants a second listen, and the plot, about Gary and his comrades guarding a supposed jihadi, relies on the most one-note US caricatures and a surprisingly treacly sentimentality.
As ever, the most reliable laughs derive from the soldier’s broad, macho banter between themselves and Gary’s preening egotism, with the cast only just managing to stop themselves from frequently corpsing. There are some nice in-jokes, such as allusions to Corrigan taking time out of the series to film River City and the relative weight loss of James Allenby-Kirk, playing Jeff the Chef, next to McHugh’s increased paunch as Gary. However, a nod to Gary’s recent interviews of Scotland’s political leaders merely highlights the distance between that witty, largely off-the-cuff enterprise and this more leaden-footed endeavour. McHugh’s central performance remains dumbly charismatic, but Mission Quite Possible feels like a 30 minute sitcom episode’s worth of laughs stretched too thin over almost two hours.