Damp break from Paradise

Don Warrington
Don Warrington
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The latest TV sitcom to be brought back to life in a new stage version is Rising Damp which ran from 1974 and 1978.

ITV’s most successful sitcom of all time was set in a rundown boarding house in an unspecified northern town owned by the grasping Rupert Rigsby. His long-suffering tenants include Ruth Jones, an administrator at the university, Alan, a medical student and Philip, who is studying town and country planning.

Between them, Alan and Philip are the focus and foil of the majority of Rigsby’s many prejudices, usually at the expense of his dignity and standing in the eyes of Miss Jones, with whom he is hopelessly and pathetically in love.

The stage adaptation by original scriptwriter Eric Chappell is directed by Don Warrington, who made his name as Philip Smith in the original TV show, alongside Leonard Rossiter, Frances de la Tour and Richard Beckinsale,

So how did Warrington feel when approached to oversee its transition to the stage? “I did have to think twice about doing it because it was something no longer in my orbit,” he admits. “But I had started to direct from time to time and it was something that came out of left field and so I thought why not?

“I’ve not directed an out-and-out comedy before and it could be that one of the reasons I agreed was to see whether I could do it.”

And how does it feel to be directing an actor (Cornelius Macarthy) playing the role he originally played? “I don’t think my answer will be terribly interesting,” he replies. “It doesn’t seem that important, it was an awful long time ago when I was in a different position to where I am now. I am not standing looking out of myself from within but outside looking in.”

The world has moved on from those days so has some of Rigsby’s racist remarks been toned down for modern audiences.

Warrington doesn’t feel the way Rigsby treats Philip has changed, although: “It couldn’t happen now but we are setting it in the Sixties.”

The location hasn’t changed either. “The thing about a situation comedy is the situation and that was the house,” says the director, explaining that the play is based on one particular episode and the action all takes place in the room shared by Alan and Philip.

As an actor Warrington went on to appear in many television series such as Red Dwarf, Casualty and once the tour of Rising Damp got off and running, he was off to start filming the third series of BBC TV’s Death In Paradise, in which he plays the pompous Commissioner.

“The location is not at all bad,” the actor allows. “The previous two series have been shot between May and October although I am not there all the time.”

Rising Damp is at the Lyceum from Monday to Saturday.