'ALLO, 'ALLO! By Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft
Abingdon Drama Club (ADC)
Unicorn Theatre, 18 Thames Street, Abingdon, OX14 3HZ
26-29 June 2019
The knockwurst, the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies, the ridiculous British airmen, the pantomime villain Herr Flick of the Gestapo, the camp Lieutenant Gruber and, of course, Rene Artois and the crew – they're all here. Wound up and ready to go for our entertainment and amusement. Director Terry Atkinson's production of this national favourite played it with a straight bat, aiming for the 'Allo, 'Allo! that we all know and love. Long story short, he succeeded.
There was effective casting, especially with Michael Ward capturing the languid, laissez-faire attitude of Rene that we all recall from Gorden Kaye's original TV performance. Likewise, Lynne Smith proved an hilarious Edith with some quite deliberately awful cabaret singing. But it was a strong cast generally and ensemble playing was the key to the comedy.
'Allo, 'Allo! is a pantomime in all but name, but without the audience participation. Large, overdrawn two-dimensional characters that either play up to stereotypes or create some of their own – this is exactly what an audience intent on simple fun is looking for, and we were not disappointed.
In the programme notes, Atkinson was at pains to disassociate the production from any thought crimes because of the 'dated' humour. It's a sad sign of our times that he felt the need to do so. He needn't have worried. I think he overestimates the credence the general public ascribe to the phobias and isms that the majority of us are allegedly guilty of because of our genetics. Inventing a neologism does not make a thing true. Switching off from 'reality' and losing ourselves in farce, as Atkinson wisely suggests, actually brings out a deeper, greater human truth that transcends the shallow labelling exercise that currently threatens freedom of artistic expression.
As with Shakespeare, being faithful to the text will take you a long way to success with this show, and the humour was played in the spirit in which Lloyd and Croft wrote it. Although the characters are well established, right down to the tiniest of nuances, that does not equate to a 'painting-by-numbers' approach by the actors. Craft and skill are still required. I particularly enjoyed Jon Crowley's Le Clerc, Tony Green's Lieutenant Gruber and Tim Mean's Crabtree. But the remainder of the cast all caught the essence of their characters pretty well.
Michael Ward did a sterling job with set design, transforming the Unicorn Theatre into Cafe Artois with a layout that meant the stage never felt crowded. Costumes were excellent, although with the inevitable compromises: I chuckled at the fact that Captain Bertorelli's (Duncan Blagrove) hat was actually a tricorn hat. It had the requisite black feathers on it, you see.
A nice feature during the many scene changes was the projection of tongue-in-cheek comments, in French, above the stage, such as 'not another scene change!'. Of course, you can get away with being ruder in a foreign language than in English; an opportunity that was not missed.
On the evening I went, there was a full house of happy laughing customers. ADC have recently put on a number of more serious productions, tackling deeper subjects that I've enjoyed. This provided a contrast with straightforward popular entertainment and was none the worse for that.
Photo credit: ADC
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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