‘C’est magnifique Hooky Street’ – Only Fools and Horses Musical, Royal Theatre Haymarket, London. 26.04.23

Only Fools and Horses will always hold a special place in my heart. I dimly remember watching the Christmas specials as a child, and as one of my Dad’s favourite shows we watched many a re-run of the series. But even coming from that favourable standpoint, I struggled to see how they would make it into a musical. It doesn’t obviously lend itself to one.

The website didn’t give much away either:

Featuring cherished material from the TV series, the laughs, dodgy dealings and unforgettable moments to boot, join us as we take a trip back to 1989, get reacquainted with Britain’s most loveable rogues and experience the classic comedy brought to life once again through an ingenious and hilarious original score; an idea so inexplicably pukka it surely proves the old adage that he who dares wins! Only Fools and Horses the Musical is the critically acclaimed feel-good, family celebration of traditional, working-class London life and the aspirations we all share.

I was extremely fortunate that my Dad’s visit coincided with the musical’s last week on the West End. So, with no idea what to expect in terms of songs, off we trotted (get it?) to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to have a butcher’s.

And I’m so glad we did. It took me five to ten minutes to really get into it, and then the cast sang ‘Hooky Street’ and the mood of the whole audience really lifted. This is what we came for!

Credit: Johan Persson

How do they pack seven series (64 episodes) into a couple of hours theatre, I hear you ask? Well, the story centres around Rodney wanting to fly the roost, getting married and moving in with Cassandra. Del is also looking for love, and signs up to a dating agency where he meets Raquel, but despite their chemistry both are hiding their true selves from each other. Around this storyline, the show is jampacked with all the best and funniest moments from the TV show, beautifully slotted in so it never misses a beat.

The cast was superbly picked. I almost felt sorry for Tom Bennett, who plays Del Boy, before we got there. In my Dad’s words: “There is only one Del Boy”, so he had some pretty mammoth shoes to fill. But by about halfway through Act One even the staunchest Del Boy loyalist would have been swayed. He delivered Del’s mockery of the French language perfectly. He had people in fits throughout the show.

By far the most brilliant bit of casting was choosing Ryan Hutton as Rodney. His blank expression, slouching shoulders and mannerisms exactly embodied Nicholas Lyndhurst’s original portrayal. If you closed your eyes and listened to his whiny accent you could have mistaken him for Lyndhurst.

Paul Whitehouse as Grandad – Credit: Johan Persson

Everyone’s favourite, Grandad/Uncle Albert, was played by co-writer Paul Whitehouse, who was clearly having the time of his life up there. Craig Berry had perfected Boycie’s signature laugh, whilst Lee VG was manifesting Trigger’s slow and slightly stupid ways. It would be hard to find another cast who embody the original so perfectly.

The leading ladies are few, but not to be outshone by their male counterparts. The talented Nicola Munns plays both Cassandra and Marlene and gets Marlene’s distinctive voice spot on. She is joined by Ashleigh Gray as Raquel. Both gave strong vocal performances during their solo parts.

Obviously ‘Hooky Street’ was the firm favourite amongst the audience from the musical numbers. However, a whole host of new songs have been written for this production, predominantly the work of Paul Whitehouse, Jim Sullivan and the late Chas Hodges (RIP). There are some great songs in there, such as ‘Not Now Grandad’, ‘Bit of a Sort’ and ‘This Time Next Year’. They fit perfectly with the feel-good, cockney vibe Only Fools and Horses is known for.

Overall, I had a much better evening than I anticipated. I expected it to be funny and had only heard good things, but I didn’t necessarily expect the cast to be so close to the original show (a real achievement and winning move) and the songs and storyline to work so well. It really did Only Fools and Horses and its die-hard fans proud.

Very sadly, Only Fools and Horses has now finished its stint on the West End. However, their twitter account gives me hope. Pinned at the top it says ‘It’s not goodbye, it’s ‘Bonjour For Now.’’ Could a UK tour be on the way? Mais ouis!

*UPDATE: the UK and Ireland tour has been announced! Get your tickets here.*

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