Vicar of Dibley

Date 12th April 2023
Society Theatrecraft
Venue The Playhouse Theatre, Whitstable
Type of Production Play
Director Norman Holness

Report

Author: Cheryl Marksford

The choice of television spin off scripts being translated for stage is extensive and honestly, I’m not always a fan, but from the opening notes of Howard Goodall’s arrangement of the 23rd Psalm we were transported back to the mid-1990s and a time of gentler, but none the less hilarious, comedy upon a beautifully constructed and decorated split set; one half representing the Parish Hall and the other the Vicarage.

The set was authentic and worked well for the many swift scenes if a little cramped on the Parish Hall side. Use of the stage was thoughtful and intelligent throughout. It was lit well and really brought a sense of the familiar to the audience. A choir was used throughout with appropriately picked hymns which I really liked and added to the charm of the piece. I personally preferred when they sung with accompaniment as it was less of a stark change from the warmth of the play.

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 Pottle’s replacement will be a male! The director (Norman Holness) should be commended for assembling a magnificent cast who not only had all the vocal mannerisms of the original TV series characters but uncannily also physically resembled them without being a carbon copy. It was certainly clear that he had invested heart and charm, and the great deal of thought into this production, which was much appreciated, with several set piece moments hitting the spot with the large and enthusiastic audience.

Playing out every inch of the cynical and pompous Council Chairman David Horton was Stuart Clements, who skilfully created a fearsome and bombastic privileged chairman and father to son Hugo Horton played by Errol Flynn, who blunders his way through life dominated by his father and unable to admit his obvious love for the Verger Alice. He played the shy and tongue-tied love interest perfectly and had everyone in the audience rooting for him in his quest to woo the mad-cap Alice. He was fun to watch with some well observed physicality. Unfortunately, he was wearing a slightly distracting wig which just didn’t look right! Something that needs addressing in the future for this talented actor.  The characteristically pedantic Frank Pickle, played with understated humour by John McCrae is meticulously taking minutes, sitting at the parish council table. Although a pernickety character, John brought a gentle warmth to the role that made you want to take him home. Alongside him every step of the way was “no,no,no,no…yes”  bumbling Jim Trott (Keith Holness), who excelled in a later scene where he practised his wedding speech. This was a fine performance from Keith, who was absolutely hilarious with his every utterance eliciting gales of laughter. The role of challenged cook and flower arranger Letitia Cropley was in the safe, experienced hands of Jane Danes, who managed to transform herself from her usual glamourous self into the chaotic Leticia. The audience waited with anticipation for her next culinary exploit and the wicked delight on her face when she revealed the ingredients was joyful. Equally professional was Nick Easton playing sex-mad Owen Newitt, the bachelor farmer obsessed with the bowel movements of his cows. A good performance with his pursuit of Geraldine adding greatly to the comedy in the piece.

We waited in anticipation for the arrival of the new vicar, hoping she would be as coarse and unrefined as Dawn French’s portrayal of the character. Joanna Price as the ebullient Geraldine Granger, the eponymous Vicar of Dibley, gave a strong performance. Her interactions with the villagers were believable and she had a very natural delivery.  Her scenes with Nick Easton were real highlights. I would have liked her to be a little more gregarious at times to really make the most of the character. That said, she was confident and held the enormity of the role (and the expectation) throughout.

One of the key relationships of the story though, is the one that Geraldine has with the ditzy verger, Alice Tinker, outstandingly played by Laura Carter. From her first entrance Laura became Alice, she was superb showing real light and shade in the role and 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.

The onstage chemistry between Alice (Laura) and Hugo (Errol) was hilarious, as was their first kiss that seemed to last forever! The finale, Hugo and Alice’s wedding, was truly awesome and included some subtle audience participation!  I must also mention the Telly-Tubbies bridesmaids, Vikki Ludlow and Nonnie Griggs – wonderful. That is an image that will live with me for a long time.

The cast gelled so well together, almost as if they were plucked straight from the TV and onto the stage and the generous amount of laughter evident on opening night was due to the quality of the actors bringing the script to life. A truly wonderful, laughter filled evening’s entertainment.