Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe, 29 July 2018
To those of us of a certain age, Last of the Summer Wine is not quite the proposition that many who only saw the later episodes air on Sunday afternoons with a variety of veteran light entertainers making increasingly bizarre cameos as time went on. And it’s that, rather earthier show, that these two men of a certain age are here to celebrate. But let’s get this straight from the outset: they’re not obsessed, OK?
If you’re in your late thirties or early forties, you’ll remember LotSW as a Sunday evening staple, one of those markers of the end of the weekend, tucked in just before a Miss Marple, and then a Spitting Image, before finally giving up the ghost and admitting that school was onlty a few hours seleep away again. If you’re a little older still, you might even be able to remember the times that it wasn’t even on a Sunday, and they showed it during the week. Some, maybe even older still, might remember the trilbied, sometimes bitter, Cyril Blamire, and the really rather tactile (with certain individuals, anyway) rebel librarian, Wainwright. For these people, LotSW isn’t quite the cosy and perhaps eventual near self-parody it became toward the end of its run. And it’s that Bob Fischer and Andrew T Smith want to talk about. A show not about the faint dying of the light, but the raging against it, by people who, when the show began, really weren’t as old we remember, had seen action in various theatres of war, and had been at the sharp end of the changes its aftermath had wrought.
Because it’s a preview, it is a bit rough around the edges, and we are certainly being used to try out some ot the material before they let it loose on Edinburgh, but that’s just fine. The point is clear: it’s a much more complex show than many remember; a much more nuanced, deftly written, and bittersweet trek through the autumn, and in some cases, end, of life. It’s also he story of how important a sense of time & place can be, because it’s not clear that this show could have worked anywhere other than Holmfirth, or at a time other than the one where it started, for reasons Fischer and Smith talk about at some length. There are moments of audience participation (but not the scary sort), and the retooling of a device used by Baddiel and Skinner, but all to the good, becasue it gives proceedings a warm, all-in-it-together feel, not wholly unlike the situation the characters originally found thmeselves in, to be honest.
It’s funny in parts, insightful and at times really quite touching, not just about the people who were in it, but also about us, as we grew up and grew older with the people who’d been on our screens for as long as many of us could remember. It really is a little slice of British social history, and a memory of a period that possibly couldn’t really happen again quite in the same way. It’s good to remember, but not to fall back into the lazy glow of a false nostalgia. It strikes that balance, and does it with a warmth and love that is plain for all to see.
PS: the vegetarian kofta balls in korma sauce I had for tea beforehand in the restaurant were gorgeous, and the staff were wonderful (even when I ordered entirely the wrong thing, and had to send it back through no fault of theirs). The Waiting Room is a wonderfully friendly place to eat and spend some time, so go. No really, go. Now.