Some 25 years ago I spent many a happy hour at the Mowlem Theatre in Swanage. I am happy to say I spent two more very happy hours there last night.
When I heard I was to review The Vicar of Dibley I was intrigued to know how an amateur, or indeed any company, would stage such an iconic show. The characters are so vibrant, so memorable. Do you alienate your audience by a) taking them in a completely different direction, or b) trying but not quite managing to recreate those characters?
Swanage Drama decided to remain faithful to the original. And what a stunning job they did. There they were, our favourite characters from the telly stood on stage. Every character bristled with life. They were precisely as we remember them. How they managed it is quite beyond me.
There was a great set, split between the Vicarage and the Parish Council meeting room. The show opened with some great sound effects and we were off on a journey back to Dibley. Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter’s script was true to the style of the original and fairly sparkled.
The show races through 25 small scenes. The cast’s comedic timing throughout was excellent; laughs so thick and fast there was barely time to breathe. The attention to detail was astonishing. Little touches, like Letitia Cropely’s different coloured woolly hat with pretty much every entrance. No director was credited but the sadly missed Pat Jones, who has been at the heart of Swanage Drama for many years, was credited as Dibley Consultant.
There were just a few minor frustrations for me; sitting in G7, it was difficult to hear the actors in the Parish room; talking over the laughs, we missed a lot; scene switches could be a bit slicker; there were lovely musical interjections but please fade them out nicely.
That being said, there was not a weak link in this terrific cast but I have to say stand out performance for me was Victoria Jones as Alice Horton. She was absolutely on point which gave Gail Green’s Vicar everything she needed for her vast array of exasperated, surprised, stymied facial expressions.
It was brilliant; just what we need on a dark autumn night in the middle of an election to transport us away to somewhere warm and friendly. We even had some delightful Nativity Singers.
A thoroughly brilliant evening. Were it not for the fact I’m already booked up for tonight and tomorrow I would go and see it again. And you, dear readers, should do yourselves a favour, get over to Swanage and see it too! You have until 30 November.
Oh, and look out for the camel!