It presents a particularly strong challenge to bring to the stage characters and situations as well-known and well-loved as those in such TV sitcoms as Fawlty Towers and ‘Allo ‘Allo, and Bishopstoke Players took on the latest of these in the form of Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter’s adaption of The Vicar of Dibley, and for the most part a very fine job they made of it.
Knitting together some of the best-known situations, from the vicar’s first arrival in the opening scene, and culminating in Alice and Hugo’s wedding as the finale, we enjoyed all the idiosyncrasies we have come to know and love in this motley assembly of Dibley’s finest.
All the characters were brought to life in front of us, and Katie Pink, as the chocolate-loving vicar, was quite excellent, with the uncannily accurate voice and mannerisms we have come to expect from our favourite female clergy. On stage almost throughout, she ran the gamut of expressions, whether itching to get her hands on a Mars Bar, repelling amorous advances or disco-dancing at a two-person hen night. This was a terrific performance, and the sold-out first night audience was with her from the moment she stepped on stage.
As her side-kick, Jennifer Pike absolutely aced the part of Alice Tinker. Here was the lovesick verger astonishingly well recreated in her every move and intonation. We laughed with her, sympathised with her, and were overjoyed for her when she finally walked up the aisle, resplendent in illuminated head-dress and with her teletubby attendants.
All our other favourite characters were there too, led by Drew Craddock’s overbearing David Horton (though perhaps not quite overbearing enough at times), his put-upon son Hugo (a bit of a silly-ass Hugh Johnn), farmer Owen Newitt (Colin Carter with many of the best one-liners), Dale Yarney’s pedantic Parish Clerk Frank Pickle and Dave Hughes’ (‘no, no, no, no, yes!’) Jim Trott.
Director Louisa Asquith’s staging had some nice touches, too, with Geraldine’s study set separately at stage right, and the vestry on its own out at stage left, which created intimacy for the scenes played in these areas. Becky Griffin’s keyboard playing added to the atmosphere, and the excellent Gospel Phonics choir, arrayed on either side of the audience, sang the theme tune and hymns throughout.
The production worked best when allowed to flow through the longer scenes, particularly those in Act 2, where both characters and plot-lines were allowed to develop. The first act suffered somewhat by being, for the most part, a quick succession of very short scenes which broke up the rhythm of the piece, though this is a minor criticism in an otherwise particularly enjoyable evening’s entertainment by a clearly very hard-working and talented company.