Porridge

Tammy Moore joins the old lags for a night banged up in HMP Grand Opera House

Written by the creators of the original series Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, Porridge was always going to be funny in the hands of a tolerably talented cast. What I wasn't expecting was for it to be touching as well.

Shaun Williamson as William Stanley Fletcher charms, finagles and blags his way across the stage. He's not Ronnie Barker. And while it might be TV blasphemy I think that might be a good thing. Not to take anything away from Barker but Williamson's rendition adds depth to the character.

Stocky and solid he convinces as the old lag Fletcher, genuinely wise in the ways of the world but unable to apply it to his own life. For all his bluff and humour he's a tragic character in a way, and Williamson conveys it well.

It is funny. The jokes aren't subtle but they are so cleanly crafted, and delivered with such enthusiasm by the cast, that the audience laughs anyhow.

'Are you now or have you ever been a practicing homosexual?' the doctor asks with disinterest. Fletch does a scandalised double take and demands, 'With these feet?!'

There are occasions that the physical humour veers towards the pantomime, but not often, and the script always catches itself before it goes too far.

The plot doesn't really matter. It's not the point. This is a distillation of the TV series, following the relationship between Fletcher and his inexperienced cell-mate Godber, with Fletcher getting himself into and out of trouble, often with Godber's help.

The lanky Brummie, played by Daniel West, lacks Fletch's street smarts but his straightforward responses often work better than all of Fletch's trickery.

There are also some surprisingly emotional moments. Like a scene in the second act where Fletch is reminded of his real place in the pecking order by Grout. It's not for the first time but this time it involves his daughter, daft, silly Ingrid, who he so obviously adores, and just for a second you see a man terrified.

Although it's never enough to undercut the humour, every now and again you're reminded that prison isn't a very nice place. At one point Godber sits on the (rather worryingly wobbly) bunk and stares across the room.

'I hate there's not a handle on the inside of that door,' he says to silence.

And for anyone who thinks that Porridge isn't relevant, at the end of the play Godber points out that Fletch is probably better where he is. After all, in 1976 the economy is in the toilet and there's a prime minister that no one likes.

The more things change...

Porridge is at the Grand Opera House until Jan 30.

Have you seen this production of Porridge? Share your views with us at CNI by emailing info@culturenorthernireland.org.