Only Fools and Horses the Musical: A Fun Show That’s Ideal for Fans of the Original
Recently, Only Fools and Horses the Musical launched on broadway. Based on one of the best known British sitcoms of the 80s and 90s, the show follows the lives of the Trotters, with Del Boy, Rodney and Grandad being Peckham street traders trying their hardest to become millionaires through wacky schemes and scams.
It’s an ambitious show, and one with a lot to live up to. After all, Only Fools and Horses was one of the most popular British TV shows of all time, as one of the most loved by both critics and the general public. Anything that tarnished its name wouldn’t go down well, especially after some of the questionable spinoffs that followed in the original’s shows footsteps.
So can the musical do it? Can it really live up to its TV counterpart? Can a mere musical continue the legacy of one of the best sitcoms of all time?
Yes. Yes it can. It may not entirely match every aspect of the original series, but Only Fools and Horses the Musical does indeed manage to live up to its inspiration just fine.
Indeed, it does better on that front than many of the shows own spinoffs do. Say what you like about the casting here, but I felt they looked, acted and sounded a lot more like their TV counterparts than their younger versions in Rock and Chips did. I mean, at least Del acted like in the original series in this one!
Of course, there are obviously going to be differences. Del isn’t played by David Jason, Rodney doesn’t really look that much like Nicholas Lyndhurst and a few of the other cast seem a bit more like reinterpretations of the original characters that carbon copies (like say, Sid). But most do look and sound spot on here (especially Trigger and Boycie), and the entire cast act enough like their original counterparts that you’ll quickly get used to their presence.
And the story translates over pretty well too. It was always going to be tricky to adapt a 40 hour TV series into a 2 hour stage show, but they managed it pretty damn well here. They took some of the best episodes of the original, compressed them down to individual scenes for a single story and managed to recontextualise them well enough to fit together into a coherent whole.
It works surprisingly well really. You’ve got all the best jokes and lines included, there’s a decent amount of variety in the sets and locations, and even things like the songs fit into the play rather well.
Which surprised me to be honest. Only Fools and Horses is not exactly known for its music, and the only unique songs it has are the intro and ending themes. Good enough on their own, but probably not varied enough to carry a whole play:
But Only Fools and Horses the Musical does manage to get some more songs in, and they’re worked nicely into the story. Heck, one or two of them are even decent.
That said, they’re generally not on par with the rest of the show, and while they fit well enough storyline wise, it might have been better if the show had skipped over most of them instead.
Fortunately, the writing team didn’t make similar mistakes with the story itself. Oh no, there they knew full well that the format mean compromises had to be made, and really made the most of it.
For instance, Del’s romance plot with Racquel was clearly not going to work in a stage show, at least not its in original form. That one had him meet her once, say goodbye, randomly see her again in Margate a few series later and then their relationship get better from there.
That clearly wouldn’t fly in a two hour show, so it got cut down to a setup where the initial leaving part doesn’t happen, then a new hospital scene where she visits Del after the latter is attacked by the Driscoll browsers is added in its place.
And the same sort of edits work well elsewhere too. For instance, much of the original series went the way it did because Grandad’s actor died during filming, along with the ones for Uncle Albert and Mike later on. The stage show doesn’t need to be tied down by these issues, so it keeps the characters alive at the same time, and adjusts their roles in the story to fit.
There are also a few instances where characters gained and lost importance in the storyline too. The Driscoll brothers go from being occasional characters that show up to cause trouble in the original show to part of the main cast here, even getting a villain song in the action. Meanwhile the likes of Mickey Pearce just kinda fades into the background a bit, since his main roles got reduced.
Different, but it works well in service of the main plot none the less.
There are also a few other changes made for special effects reasons too. Most notably, the icon three wheeled van appears significantly less in this version, since setting up driving scenes on stage would be an extremely impractical affair. Same goes for the scenes/episodes that would require entire new sets to accomodate them; you won’t be going to Hull, Margate or Miami here!
But that doesn’t mean said stories didn’t occur off camera, nor does it mean the effects or writing team scrimpted out when it came to iconic moments. For instance, while Margate itself isn’t present or visited here, an entire scene is dedicated to their planned trip to said location, complete with plenty of references to the Jolly Boy’s Outing episode it featured in. And while the episode with the famous chandelier scene is absent and the van’s episodes aren’t present, said elements do indeed get used in the play to great effect.
Speaking of which, did I mention how many references and injokes are in this? Yeah, this musical is packed with shout outs to the classic series, and whether its through lines of dialogue or background decorations, fans should have an absolute ball trying to figure out where they’ve seen that character, heard that line or noticed that background prop. The writers knew the show like the back of their hand, and they’re expecting most of the audience are in the same boat.
This can also be a double edged sword however. For instance, while the references to the classic show are fantastic for fans nostalgic for the old days, it does also make us wish there was a bit more new material too.
Because with this being the first new Only Fools and Horses related material since 2010, part of us hoped the show would be a bit of a sequel too. Or at least, reimagine the material a bit more than it actually does.
But that’s not the case. Only Fools and Horses the Musical is basically the best parts of the original series on stage, and it’s written and marketed for people who want to relive its glory days as a result of that. It’s familiar comfort food at its best, and doesn’t really strive to go beyond that.
Ah well, that may be the better really. After all, many musicals are adaptations of previous works, whether we’re talking Les Miserables, School of Rock, Spamalot or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
And just like Only Fools and Horses the Musical, a good part of their appeal is indeed seeing how a familiar plot can be adapted to the stage. It’s a simple formula, can be done well with relative ease and appeals to both longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Hence to see the Only Fools and Horses musical go this way is probably the right decision. Hell, given the risks involved in trying to continue a beloved classic like this, it may have even been the only sane one. Wouldn’t want to release another disappointment like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child after all!
So overall, Only Fools and Horses the Musical is a good show, and a fun adaptation of a TV classic. Sure it’s not perfect, and no, it’s not some risky avant-garde sequel that’ll change the world either, but it’s a pleasant adaptation that’ll be appreciated by any and all fans of the original, and that’s all it needed to be.