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Keeping Up Appearances

Going to the theatre should be a pleasurable all-round experience, and seeing a play at The Mowlem is an experience unlike almost any other. The bar where you sip your interval drink, admiring the evening light on Swanage Bay, juts out over the sea so that the waves are actually breaking beneath you and you feel that you have become part of that glorious panorama. The fifty-year-old theatre is showing its age a bit but remains a crucial centre for the Swanage community, so the success of its recent repertory seasons is a welcome boost to its finances and has already paid for significant improvements.

And, of course, that view offers some consolation if the play should not be up to scratch, but happily no such consolation is needed this week, when The Mowlem is presenting a thoroughly enjoyable play based on the TV sitcom, Keeping Up Appearances, about the social pretensions of Hyacinth Bucket  – pronounced, Hyacinth insists, ‘Bouquet’. The dilemma for anyone re-creating much-loved TV characters is: do you do a faithful impression of the original, or do you strike out and put your own interpretation on the character? There is a bit of both in this production and it works well.

Emmet, for example, Hyacinth’s put-upon neighbour, is a much more vivid and emotional character in this play than he is in the TV series. He has to be because he is trying to produce a play in the local community hall, and Hyacinth inevitably horns in. Alex Scott Fairley plays the part with great exuberance and makes the almost unbearable frustrations of dealing with Hyacinth all too believable. As noted in last week’s review of The 39 Steps, his diction is exceptional.

As Hyacinth, Fiona Mulvaney wisely does not try to be the inimitable Patricia Routledge. She is not quite as toffee-nosed, and her slightly Northern vowels are a constant, whereas Routledge only brought them out in moments of stress. Hyacinth’s insufferable attitudes and behaviour are still evident, though, but so is the sense that despite all, she is basically a good person meeting the challenges of the world in her own way.

Emmet’s sister, Liz, is the peacemaker who tries to stop Emmet telling Hyacinth what he really thinks of her, and Emily Birt brings a heap of nervous energy to the part. Clare Kissane has the best role in the play as Hyacinth’s man-mad sister, Rose, and takes full advantage of it. Sarah Dearlove makes Hyacinth’s other sister, Daisy, a really sweet and sympathetic character in an endearing performance. In his grubby vest, Alasdair Saksena provides a strong echo of Geoffrey Hughes’s TV performances as Daisy’s husband, Onslow. He and Sarah carry off the quick-fire repartee between Daisy and Onslow particularly well.

James Taylor Thomas deserves a special shout-out for his versatility in the dual roles of Mr Milson, whose initial shyness is soon swept aside by the voracious Rose, and Mrs Debden, as whom he gives an unnervingly realistic picture of the sort of upper middle-class woman Hyacinth aspires to be.

If you are looking for a play that is intellectually deep and thought-provoking, this is probably not for you, but for an undemanding, not-very-subtle summer evening full of laughs, it is ideal. It is at The Mowlem until 17 August, at 7.30 each evening.