The first TV run of ‘Allo Allo’ (1982-92) divided opinion between those who thought its depiction of a farcical occupied France hilarious, and those who found it distasteful, with funny accents, Heil Hitlers and grovelling Froggies.
When it was turned into a touring stage show visiting such venues as Bournemouth Pier and Stevenage, reaction was similarly mixed. Amateur groups, failing to realize that such farce is difficult to pull off, loved to play against type, with young mums displaying saucy underwear and prep school teachers treading the boards as escaping airmen.
East Dean has a long-established amateur group, and April 13 was the start of a four-day run where they staked their claim to mastery of Jeremy Lloyd’s and David Croft’s script. Traps are everywhere. Even the title brings a problem, in that the two apostrophes inevitably appear back-to-front simply because the modern laptop can’t bring itself to start a title with a missing letter. Foreign accents must be maintained throughout. Scenery and costumes put great demands on the backstage crew. The members of the cast must at least look like the characters they are playing. A dozen men must be found and persuaded to be leapt-on by randy girls, to dress in ridiculous clothes, and to drop their trousers whenever the plot demands.
Incredibly East Dean pulled it off! Full marks go to the costumier, Jan Smith, to the set design and build teams, to the un-named onstage pianist, and indeed the entire backstage crew for maintaining a credible background for some impressive performances. The cast of some 20 players had mastered their lines and adopted their roles remarkably. On Friday I saw not one need of a prompt; and some of the major performances were of a high order. Stephen Lowin as René switched effortlessly from performance to conversation with the audience. Cheryl Veitch triumphed in one of those difficult situations where you are required to deliver a mighty song-and-dance act while remaining in character as one who cannot actually sing or dance.
With 16 scenes and a large cast it would be impossible to examine individual performances. Suffice to say that there was no weak link anywhere. True, some of the lines were lost by occasional inability to master the stage whisper. But the teamwork was what counted, and full marks go to director John Dann for keeping the comic business fizzing along. I spoke to several of the audience in the interval, and not everyone liked the necessity for simulated buggery or the hidden sausages being taken for giant penises. Perhaps the success of this production should not be seen as licence to offer too much on-the-edge farce. The Players have proved they can do it, now let’s see what they come up with next. By Robin Gregory.