It could be tricky getting 25 actors touring around the UK – unless you find two men who can convincingly play all 25 characters.
That’s what is happening with the amazing Dad’s Army Radio Show, playing to sell-out audiences around the country.
Just two incredible actors, David Benson and Jack Lane, are involved in staging three classic radio episodes, based on the best scripts from the much-loved TV original.
The great Barry Cryer described the show as “utterly brilliant, the best Dad’s Army recreation I’ve seen” and David and Jack admit it’s a joy to work on.
“I play Mainwaring, Jones, Pike and other incidental characters,” says Jack, while David is: “An assortment of platoon regulars, Wilson, Frazer, Godfrey, Walker.
“I also get to play some of the less frequently seen but equally loved stalwarts like The Vicar, The Verger, Hodges and Mrs Fox.”
David adds: “Either of us could play any of the characters if we wanted to swap but we like it the way it is. In some of the earliest rehearsals we took turns playing each character – me as Mainwaring, Jack as Walker – but it soon became clear who was going to be who.”
How on Earth do the guys manage to jump from one very famous, distinctive voice to another, and avoid a meltdown by getting them confused?
“I used to impersonate Le Mesurier when I was a Birmingham schoolboy, not for the entertainment of others but for my own secret pleasure!” David laughs.
“It calmed me down, to pretend I was Sergeant Wilson, who seemed to float airily above even the most fraught situation. He was, in fact, a very anxious man behind the far-away smile, which is maybe why, in adult life, I find his Dad’s Army character still fits me like a glove.”
Jack, however, admits: “The only problem is the sheer speed of changes in tone, body language and character, but it’s all about breath control and vocal choreography. Once you’ve mastered that, you can happily have a conversation with yourself as two or even three characters.”
David points out: “Godfrey is a very tricky voice to get right because it is as airy and flaky as Dolly’s puff pastry. When the line before might have been in Frazer’s ferocious brogue or Hodges’ menacing bark, it can be a little difficult to adjust to Godfrey’s frail and faltering delivery.”
If you’re wondering how the brilliant TV show might translate to radio, David and Jack point out that it can be quite different, and often even better.
“The brilliant adaptations of the telly scripts by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles for Radio Four sometimes left out exchanges, one-liners and even whole scenes,” David reveals.
“They differ greatly at times,” Jack admits, “depending on how visual the TV episode had been.
“Some dialogue was clearly removed for running time issues. We’ve replaced many original lines from TV episodes simply because they were too funny to lose.”
David adds: “The show has been approved by the Croft and Perry Estates, as well being blessed by the original radio script creators, Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles.
“Harold was a senior creative on Dad’s Army from its outset and Michael was a frequent guest actor.
“I actually impersonate him in two of the episodes. And we were given a five-star review by the Radio Times for our stage show, which we will take as ‘the BBC’s blessing’!”
With all this experience, what are David and Jack’s favourite episodes?
“I like the episodes with real emotional undertow,” says David, “such as Branded, where Godfrey confesses to having been a conscientious objector, and A Wilson – Manager, where Wilson becomes manager of a rival branch.
“And, of course, Mum’s Army, which we are now performing, in which Mainwaring has a ‘Brief Encounter’ moment.”
That goes for Jack, too, who enthuses: “I’m pleased to say we perform my favourite episode, Mum’s Army. For the first time we see Mainwaring’s vulnerability when he falls for a new female recruit, Mrs Grey.
“Played to perfection by Carmen Silvera, it’s beautifully written with a nod to Brief Encounter. I love pathos in comedy and this episode allows the cast to flex their dramatic muscle, which is rarely seen in the series.”
Find out more about the show, visit www.seabrights.com/dads-army-radio-hour