By Joanne Rymer for NODA
When it comes to a stage production of a well-loved TV classic such as The Vicar of Dibley, any company are instantly on dodgy ground as comparisons are drawn with the original. This is not so with Bebington Dramatic Society.
As I took my seat inside the theatre, I was immediately struck by the detail of the proscenium stage. The challenge for Director Betty Oliver is how to streamline the flow of the story written by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter in an adaption of this classic television series. This was accepted and surpassed; introducing relevant songs strategically placed was genius. ‘Knowing me Knowing You’, ‘Kiss me Honey Honey Kiss me’, ‘Duelling Banjos’ and when Geraldine is to be transferred to Liverpool, ‘Ferry Across the Mersey.’
The dual set, with the parish hall on one side of the stage and the vicar’s home on the other, were superbly designed and enabled slick scene changes, necessary in this episodic piece, moving the story along effectively.
With such a script, the show cannot help but amuse, but the generous amount of laughter evident on the first night was just as much due to the quality of the actors on stage.
The Dibley Parish Council meeting is discussing the imminent arrival of the new vicar, after the unfortunate death of the previous popular vicar the Reverend Pottle. The Council are presuming that the Reverend Pottles replacement will be a male!! The BDS stalwart David Oliver is Chairman David Horton, this he did with great skill creating a fearsome and bombastic privileged chairman and father to son Hugo Horton played by Che Cullen, who blunders his way through life dominated by his father and unable to admit his obvious love for the Verger Alice. The characteristically pedantic Frank Pickle, played with understated humour by Brian Sumner is meticulously taking minutes, sitting at the parish council table alongside no,no,no,no…yes Keith Hill bumbling Jim Trott, who excelled in a later scene where he practised his wedding speech. This was a fine performance from Keith, who was absolutely hilarious. The role of challenged cook and flower arranger Letitia Cropley was in the safe, experienced hands of Joan Mason, (looking forward to her cookery book) and equally professional was Graham Smith playing Owen Newitt, the bachelor farmer obsessed with the bowel movements of his cows. What an accomplished comedic performance from Graham. The cast gelled well together, almost as if they were plucked straight from the TV and onto the stage.
We waited in anticipation for the arrival of the new vicar, Geraldine Granger as I hoped she would be as coarse and unrefined as Dawn French’s portrayal of the character. The moment actress Jane Wing burst onto the stage as the new Vicar of Dibley I was convinced that she was the woman for the job. Jane was wonderfully witty and as rebellious as French in her portrayal of the character
One of the key relationships of the story though, is the one that Geraldine has with the verger, Alice Tinker, played by Jenny Dewhurst. From her first entrance Jenny became Alice, she was superb particularly in the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” sketch which I am sure you remember from the TV programme, the audience at the Gladstone Theatre certainly did. Jenny stunned the audience with a pitch perfect rendition of her character. It was hard not to feel that the original actress, Emma Chambers, (who passed away 2021) had turned up for the occasion, an outstanding performance Jenny.
This is quite a large cast and each character had their own moment of hilarity but it was of course Geraldine, whose character held the whole show together, and the audience loved and laughed along to the her giving up chocolate for Lent, to the last poignant moment when David asks her to stay in the parish.
Hugo and Alice were both superbly portrayed by Che and Jenny. Their onstage chemistry was hilarious, as was their first kiss that seemed to last forever! The costume department is to be congratulated on the confection that was the wedding dress! Not to forget the Telly-Tubbies bridesmaids, Grace Wing and Lucy Martin – wonderful.
The finale, Hugo and Alice’s wedding, was truly amazing, and loved their entrance from the side exit, fabulous ending to an extremely accomplished production. Congratulations to all concerned.
Thank you for a truly entertaining evening, it was a blast. See you all in November, have a great summer.