Three cheers for amateur theatre and the hard working people that make it happen. Of course we love the big professional shows with all their glam and glitter but, without amateur theatre, a lot of theatrical fun and ingenuity would not be had in World War One halls with a small stage stuck at one end, no wing space to speak of, flat auditoriums, heating and cooling dependent on whether you are near the one on the wall or under the fan on the ceiling. Added to that, they are often in the purlieu of financially stricken Councils who whenever the word “arts” comes up, are inundated with letters to the Editor saying money being considered to be spent on that would be better expended on hospitals and schools. Oh dear! So the ground is fertile for such groups as the Noarlunga Theatre Company who must spend long hours figuring out how, or if, any play they have in mind can possibly be staged with what they have.
The play they chose is The Vicar of Dibley adapted by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter from the award winning British tv series which ran on the BBC from 1994 to 1998. It is set in a make-believe village of Dibley and was written by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer for actress Dawn French to play the Reverend Geraldine Granger and was very popular indeed. Therein lies a problem. Does the director look to duplicate the tv actors in the interpretation of the play or look at the lines and have them delivered differently with characters physically unlike those on the tv screen? Director Myles Leon chose the former and remarkably successful that was with something near look-alike and sound-alike characters. As each character emerged, warm recognition was obvious, with a buzz from the audience seated at tables with their wine, tea or coffee, and muffin (available from the back of the hall for a moderate price) before them. They were in for a selection of the best bits of a television show they had so enjoyed years ago and it had the added kudos of being a premiere – the very first time it had been staged in South Australia.
This play has 23 scenes, all taking place in the Parish Hall, where the Parish Council meets; the vicarage, where Rev. Geraldine lives, both venues permanently on stage; the vestry front of curtain and the church likewise. Each of the 23 scenes is short although the show itself is a bit less than two and a half hours long so the story is told in snippets with lights off and the cast nipping from one part of the very small stage to the other in between. Although well managed, it was a time gobbler, not necessary on tv of course. After the now familiar, but in those tv days less-known lovely setting of the signature hymn “The Lord is my shepherd”, the council members are revealed, each a memorable character in themselves.
They, under the chairmanship of David Horton (Stephen Popowski) are awaiting the arrival of the new priest who is to replace the now dead 102 year old incumbent. They are taken aback when they discover it is a woman, so much so, that the chairman demands of the church hierarchy that she be replaced before she even gets started. No such luck. He is stuck with her as they are with his pet hate the zany Verger, Alice Tinker (Helen Lane). Chocolate loving, toping, sexy joke telling Geraldine Granger (Deirdre Quinn), looking at times like Dawn French, handles the role well with verve and vivacity. The episodes chosen by the adaptors don’t give her the opportunity to show the gentler side of the character. The council members are remarkably well cast. Jim Trott (Tim Cousins) with his “No, no, no, no, yes” and his stomach preceding him by a quarter-of-an-hour like Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose, is an absolute joy. George Kemp, playing the mild mannered meticulous minute-taker, Frank Pickle, is very good as is Jeff Penter whose Hugo Horton, put-upon son of David, blossoms under the tutelage of Geraldine, into a red-hot lover à la Rudolph Valentino, of Alice Tinker. When he stood up to his powerful Dad, the approving audience applauded. Helen Lane’s opportunity to delight us with the odd-ball character, Alice Tinker, is taken zestfully on board and her splendid explanation of her problem with pseudo butter is an example. She says, “I can’t believe the stuff that is not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and I can’t believe that both I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and the stuff that I believe is not I Can’t Believe Is Not Butter are both, in fact, not butter......” It’s one of those beaut sketches that’s up there with John Cleese and the defunct parrot. And that kiss! Barbara Henshaw rejoices in the role of Letitita Cropley who, we were assured by the perky President of the Noarlunga Company at the start of the show, had not made the interval cakes. Her offers of lard and fish paste pancakes with just a hint of liver and other delicacies reminded the audience just why that was mentioned! And she sang. Sang? Oh, and she said she played Lady Godiva at another time. The mind boggles. John Martin’s portrayal of outspoken, swearing, always late, bowel challenged, farmer Owen Newitt is a masterpiece. His Elvis impersonation is so good, he should be heading to Parkes in January. Never one to miss a trick, happy to call a turd a turd, he sets his heart on Geraldine as he lunges at her at every opportunity. Stephen Popowski as David Horton, stuffy and powerful and manipulating chairman of the Parish Council had a rocky start but then took control of the character trying to deal with that council and a recalcitrant son! The children in the show, being children, obviously enjoyed the wedding snack but they need to not relax too much in that scene but to stay with the play and not let their attention wander.
The play was well lit, the play efficiently stage managed in difficult circumstances and costumes and set very appropriate to the era. Those on the Production Team are to be congratulated, along with the cast and Director for a show which left the audience happy and satisfied.
Noarlunga Theatre Co. presents
The Vicar of Dibley
by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter
Director Myles Leon
Venue: The Arts Centre | 22 Gawler Street, Port Noarlunga SA
Dates: 1 – 9 June 2018
Tickets: $20 – $25