THE VICAR OF DIBLEY
New Venture Players at Brentwood Theatre Chelmsford
It must be a bit like being in a tribute band, doing one of these sitcom spin-offs. Have they come to admire your performance, or to be reminded of the much-loved originals ?
They certainly pull in the punters – New Venture Players' pleasing production playing to very respectable houses.
The action takes place in the village hall and the vicarage, with a couple of jokes in the vestry and the climactic wedding in St Barnabas itself. As so often, the adaptation has lots of short scenes and set-pieces – twenty+ here – with the familiar pattern of punch-line [or not- “Let's go and have a cup of tea!” not the easiest exit line] and black-out for the scene change, accompanied by Howard Goodall's familiar psalm.
NVP have fielded an excellent cast of parishioners. All the dearly beloved “characters” are present – pedantic Frank Pickle [Melvyn Freake] taking the minutes, lusty lard-haired Farmer Hewitt [David Lintin], dim, dotty Jim Trott [Dicky P Stallard] and the toxic Mrs Cropley [Paula Harris Brett]. All given the full OTT broad farce treatment. Villain of the piece Chairman Horton is played with relish by Vernon Keeble-Watson, with Tim Murphy as his twittish son Hugo, and Lucy Mason as his prospective daughter-in-law, the cabbage-patch doll Alice. And there are a couple of appearances by some young guest stars: children of the parish and nuptial teletubbies !
The voice of reason and Christian charity amongst all the gurning grotesques is the Rev Grainger, back in the day when lady vicars were rare birds, the “babe with a bob-cut and a magnificent bosom”. She's played with wonderful warmth and perfect comic timing by Julia Stallard.
Though there are some slow patches, Joan Scarsbrook-Bird's production is a faithful recreation of a fondly remembered programme, much enjoyed by the audience, with some memorable comedy moments – chocolate for lent, the litre of gin and the kiss that lasts the whole interval ...