‘Allo ‘Allo – Trinity Players, Sutton Arts Theatre

 

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As a television situation comedy series, ‘Allo ‘Allo was a steamroller success for a decade from 1982. Written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, it was a mix of cultural stereotypes, physical comedy, farce, sexual innuendo and sauce. The best comedy television series of the late 20th century have transferred to the stage with mixed results, with the likes of “Yes Minister” and “ Dad’s Army” amongst those who have sought to make that leap. I had not seen this as a stage version. I wondered firstly how easily it would adapt to the theatre, and secondly how well, thirty- five years on, the humour was going to travel.

The curtain opened to reveal a physical set which was impressive, convincing and authentic. Set manager John Islip has once again performed his role with customary aplomb. As the production wears on, its versatility becomes apparent too. Although the cast at twenty- three, is large, the success of any presentation of ‘Allo ‘Allo hinges on the character of Rene. Trinity Players are fortunate to have Paul Wescott in the role. He has the physical presence of Gordon Kaye, who defined the role, and enough natural ability to become the part, rather than an impersonation of Kaye. Lynette Coffey ,as his wife, has the difficult task of being his foil, failing to keep her man faithful, and failing to sing in tune to great comic effect, but shines in a performance which is enthusiastic, understated, and poignant.

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The show is famous for girls and stockings. Marie Lock (Yvette) tantalises and teases with comely abandon, Stephanie Miles (Helga) is a delight with her frustrated libido and mouse traps ( you have to have seen the show), Beth Hooper(Mimi) is somewhat more modest, but needs a box to stand on, so is excused!

Whirling around Rene are numerous character roles, all of whom have fun, and convince. Simon Baker’s gay Gruber always entertains, Steven Blower’s Flick is enjoyably repressed and authoritarian. The character of Captain Bertorelli is probably the most absurd, Ray Smith just goes with it, Colin Townsend as Von Strohm, the German Commander who wants to do as little commanding as possible made me chuckle whenever he appeared. I particularly enjoyed the pairing of Ray Lawrence as LeClerc, and Ann Dempsey as Madame Fanny, the elderly couple desperate to get it on before it is too late. The script is still funny and has plenty of laughs, although some of the front of curtain exchanges, designed to facilitate scene changes, work less well as stage vignettes than they would do as screen interludes, but that is a script, not production, issue.

I am a huge fan of the show. It transfers to stage well, and the humour endures. It may rely on stereotypes and familiarity, but it works. Director Hellie England, a veteran actress in farces, does not labour the innuendo and sauce, whilst ensuring that a stocking top is never far from view. The narrative moves at a brisk pace to a satisfyingly chaotic conclusion. As an amateur production, this is pretty much as good as it gets and runs to Saturday 23rd September.

Gary Longden

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