The fact that this production is completely sold out for each of its performances is not only proof of the esteem in which this company is held, but also indicates how very popular the original TV series was. This, of course, is a double-edged sword because audiences expect to see the characters looking and sounding like the original cast.
It seems that Dawn French et al were not available – and in any case I understand that Dawn is now a mere shadow of her former self – so director Peter Ansell had his work cut out to find eight actors who might pass muster. He did it, without a doubt, and if I tell you that the entire audience laughed out loud all through the opening performance, you will understand that Peter and his brilliant cast deserve all the plaudits that will surely come their way for a job excellently and expertly done.
This stage version is not so much a play as a series of short scenes – 22 to be exact – taken mainly from the first two series. A cleverly designed set (Peter Ansell again) depicts the Parish Hall, the Vicarage and the Vestry, and it works a treat. Inevitably there are a few brief moments between scenes when the stage is dark, but they pass by in a flash.
The lynchpin of the production is, naturally, Geraldine Grainger, the parish’s first female vicar, and Lucie Evans has caught her character to perfection to give us a wonderfully joyous performance. It may seem flippant to congratulate her, too, on managing to eat various items without spilling them, dribbling or spitting them out when she next speaks, but it is no mean feat!
There are such detailed characterisations from the entire cast that I simply cannot praise one person over another. Nigel Bonynge (David Horton), Joanna Dey (Alice Tinker), Peter Beardsworth (Jim Trott), Nathan East (Hugo Horton), John West (Frank Pickle), Richard Bennett (Owen Newitt) and Rosemary Guy (Letitia Cropley) could not, in my view, be bettered. All are utterly believable and I really did love them all.
The cast list shows just eight characters, but in a marvellous stroke of genius, the number on stage swells considerably when the guests arrive for the wedding scene – which brings me to my only note of criticism. It is a great idea to bring the wedding party on from one of the side doors into the auditorium, but it might have been better if the door had remained shut until the actual moment of entry as seeing Alice, her bridesmaids and the guests assembled there waiting did slightly spoil the element of surprise.
This must be one of the company’s best-ever autumn plays. I would usually urge you to go to any lengths necessary to get a ticket for one of the remaining performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday but, as I mentioned earlier, it is already sold out.