Theatre review: Birds of a Feather, Edinburgh

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IF YOU want a crash course in the direct line of descent from old-fashioned vaudeville to the traditional British sitcom, you could do a lot worse than head along to see Birds Of A Feather, playing in Edinburgh this week and Glasgow next week.

Birds of a Feather,

Edinburgh King’s Theatre

* * *

Entirely based on the famous BBC sitcom, which ran from 1989 until 1998, this two-act stage play about how the lives of the three leading characters are working out today, in 2013, belts the old one-liners and double entendres straight across the footlights, revelling in a story that performs the classic world-upside-down function of inviting us to sympathise with two Essex sisters, Sharon and Tracey, whose husbands are doing time for armed robbery.

Add a strong streak of filthy sexual innuendo (helped by the third character, Dorien, a glamorous old bird who likes a bit of the other) and you have a classic British comedy, greeted with pure delight by an audience who burst into spontaneous applause, as the three original cast members – Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph – first appear on stage, slightly older, but still instantly recognisable.

The story they deliver on this occasion plays around entertainingly with ideas about ageing: Dorien is running an upmarket care home, and Tracey is having to face up to her past, as her 15-year-old son Travis, born in the last episode of the television series, begins to ask questions about his dad.

Some of the jokes are funny, some less so, but for fans of the series, this stage version offers a solid, reliable and delightful two hours of entertainment, that sometimes soars into the realms of real, hard-hitting comedy, on the perennial British themes of class, sex and the mysterious fact that the higher up the social ladder you rise, the more likely you are to be able to go thieving with complete impunity.