Only Fools And Horses The Musical returns to the West End on Friday night and the cast were in full preparation mode during rehearsals the previous evening.
Following a hiatus during the closure of theatres, stars of the show including Paul Whitehouse, who plays Granddad, are preparing to take the stage for the comeback, which Paul says will be dedicated to late star of the show John Challis.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Paul said of John, who died ‘peacefully in his sleep’ after a battle with cancer aged 79: ‘Boycie was such an iconic role. So we wanted to dedicate tonight’s show to John and his family.’
Images from Thursday night’s final dress rehearsal showed the cast – including an aged Paul – were well and truly for action as they engaged in fun and frolics.
Hard work! Only Fools And Horses The Musical returns to the West End on Friday night and the cast were in full preparation mode during rehearsals the previous evening (Paul Whitehouse, pictured in rehearsal)
It was announced last week that John had died ‘peacefully in his sleep’ after a long battle with cancer aged 79, and he has since been remembered by his co-stars.
John was best-known for his portrayal of second-hand car dealer Boycie – a cigar-smoking businessman with a mocking laugh who butted heads with Del Boy.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Paul said: ‘We were all so saddened to hear about John. He was a huge supporter of the musical and a massive part of why people love Only Fools.
‘Boycie was such an iconic role and that was all down to John, which is why is one of the greatest ever sitcom actors. So we wanted to dedicate tonight’s show to John and his family. This one’s for him’
Returns! Following a hiatus during the closure of theatres, stars of the show including Paul Whitehouse, who plays Grandad, are preparing to take the stage for the comeback (Paul pictured with Tom Bennett and Ryan Hutton)
Paul is preparing for the musical’s return to London Haymarket Theatre on Friday following an 18-month break as a result of the pandemic.
The comedy favourite spent Thursday locked in rehearsals in London with his co-stars, including Tom Bennett and Ryan Hutton who play Del Boy and Rodney, going through lines and freshening up vocal chords.
The last show was performed on Saturday, March 14 2020 and the following day, an hour before the curtain was due to rise, it was announced all theatres would close immediately.
Paul reveals the cast were hit hard by the pandemic, with some members forced to find work in other sectors away from entertainment, to pay the bills.
Dedication: It was announced last week that John Challis had died ‘peacefully in his sleep’ after a long battle with cancer aged 79, and he will be honoured at Friday night’s show (pictured in 2002)
All star! The animated on-stage appearances are on their way back
He said: ‘Andy Mace, who plays Mike the Barman and is my understudy for Grandad, got a job as a delivery driver for Asda.
‘The pandemic really hit the industry hard and I feel so sorry for the actors, particularly the young ones and people behind the scenes.
‘Lots of them worked in restaurants, as well as on stage, and they were shut for a period too. It was really tough.’
The Nag’s Head: The pub was back up and running
Paul confirmed he would not be making any tweaks to the script to take in the effect of the pandemic, believing the show’s audience will be ‘fed up’ of hearing about it.
He explains: ‘People don’t want to turn up to the theatre and hear Covid jokes, they want to escape all that. For the time being we are going to recreate what we had.
‘And the cast want a break from it too. We are all going to be rigorously monitored and I had Covid when we were last on before it closed.
‘I wasn’t that bad and I didn’t even realise I had Covid but I think now we just need to get on with it. The cast are itching to get back.’
Getting cosy: The set was back up and running following the closure of theatres
The Only Fools and Horses musical, which Paul made with Jim Sullivan – the son of the sitcom’s writer and creator Jim, was a record-breaking success on the West End before Covid hit.
And Paul believes a huge reason for that is the attraction of fans who wouldn’t normally venture into a theatre.
He explains: ‘We’ve had a lot of people in the audience, of a certain age, let’s say, who have never been to a theatre before. It’s just not in their make-up, they think it’s a bit poncy, as Del Boy would put it.
Alright granddad? It was hard work as usual for the cast in preparation for the return of audiences
Wheyo! Samantha Seager, Paul, Peter Baker, Chris Kiely, Adrian Irvine, Ryan Hutton and Tom Bennett were all hard at work
‘But when that theme tune starts they forget where they are and start consuming the show like they did on TV and they love it. We’ve had so many fans returning watching the show several times over.
‘And we hope to welcome them back now we’re allowed to perform again!’
The West End adaptation of the classic sitcom was praised by critics when it first debuted before the pandemic in March 2020.
The musical was one of the most popular shows in London before the pandemic caused all theatre shows to close in March 2020, and received a raft of five stars reviews when it opened
Only Fools and Horses The Musical was created to honour the late John Sullivan, who wrote the sitcom, which ran from 1981 to 2003.
Starring: It has been directed by Caroline Jay Ranger with several of the show’s other characters, such as Raquel, Denzil, Mickey Pearce, Nags Head landlord Mike and the Driscoll Brothers, making a debut in the production
The tribute was described by Paul as John’s ‘last wish’ which he added meant he wasn’t scared of disappointing anyone with the show.
Only Fools and Horses: The Musical was the final project of late writer John, with his son Jim honouring his father’s legacy and taking over the script with BAFTA-winning comedy writer Whitehouse.
The production, which has been described as a ‘unique showstopper’, features 20 new songs, including contributions from the late Chas Hodges from Chas’n’Dave.
Dazzling: Only Fools and Horses The Musical was created to honour the late John Sullivan, who wrote the sitcom, which ran from 1981 to 2003
Chippy tea! They tucked into treats as they took to the stage
It has been directed by Caroline Jay Ranger with several of the show’s other characters, such as Raquel, Denzil, Mickey Pearce, Nags Head landlord Mike and the Driscoll Brothers, making a debut in the production.
Talking about the new musical, Paul said: ‘This was the last project that John Sullivan was working on when he died – he was just starting to develop Only Fools as a musical – so when writing it, Jim and I have remained very faithful to the feel and scripts of the TV series, but also highlight some contemporary issues.
‘We’re very conscious of the Only Fools legacy and that it’s so fondly remembered by people of almost all ages, so we’ve tried to incorporate everyone’s favourite moments from the TV shows and of course, all the great characters – but this time it’s with songs.’
Get tickets for Only Fools and Horses: The Musical by visiting OnlyFoolsMusical.com
Here they are! The production, which has been described as a ‘unique showstopper’, features 20 new songs, including contributions from the late Chas Hodges from Chas’n’Dave
Uh oh! One scene features Paul in a wheelchair