Thursday, March 25, 2010


Calibre Productions at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
22.03.10[reviewed for The Public Reviews]

Emboldened by the success of their Lost Episodes a couple of years ago, Calibre Productions have pressed the veterans of Walmington on Sea into service for another gruelling tour of duty. Many of the same cast are back on parade, and this time the four episodes include favourites of the writers, David Croft and Jimmy Perry, who adapted their original work for the stage.
That lovable spiv, Private Walker, is engagingly played by Leslie Grantham, who captures the seedy charm to perfection, with his restless legs and co-respondent shoes. It's his job to introduce the platoon, set the scene, and smooth the transition between episodes.
It must be strange to have your success in a role defined by how closely you resemble its original inhabitant. How accurately you murmur “Awfully Good”, or shout “Don't Panic”. It's not just Dad's Army, of course. Porridge – from the same production company - is touring hard on its heels, and I shall be interested to see what Chichester make of one of my favourites, Yes Prime Minister.
I thought Timothy Kightley was a superb Mainwaring. Fussy, bustling, puffed up, but vulnerable too, in his Brief Encounter with Sarah Berger's beautifully characterized Mrs Gray. His side-kick, the suave Sergeant Wilson, was played by David Warwick; not much of a look-a-like, but spot on with the drawl and the tics – earlobe, bridge of the nose …
Private Godfrey [Maitland Chandler] is at the heart of Branded – the one where he's accused of cowardice. Lance-Corporal Jones Richard Tate] is similarly maligned in the last episode, The 2½ Feathers. The most delightfully OTT performance came from Kern Falconer as a wild-eyed Frazer with his strangulated Scots vowels.
The women-folk come into their own in the British Restaurant, and in Mum's Army. Sarah Berger, who has to switch from Celia Johnson to ladling custard in a moment, was impressive, as was Ursula Mohan's Mrs Fox.
The set was open and uncluttered. The seagull waiting in the wings never got his moment of glory, the dinghy, upstage with the sandbags and barbed wire, was never tested at sea. The Church Hall, where most of the tv action took place, was represented by one window, the office by a desk, and so on.
Most effective dramatically, because it worked better on stage, was the flashback to Omdurman, with the platoon characters acting out the battle in the desert. But the whole show – four episodes and a bit of under-the-counter banter, plus the toast from the very last episode – was hugely enjoyable, and not just as a reminder of sitcoms past.
Celebrating 70 years of the Home Guard, the posters proudly proclaim. And, can it be true, 40 years of Dad's Army. 

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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