Players strike comedy gold with double bill

Duns Players stage an episode of The Vicar of Dibley in a double bill with Steptoe and Son''Geraldine (Kate Lester) David (Jerry Ponder) Hugo (DC) Alice (Charlotte Tait) Letitia (Celia Hedderwick) Frank (Mike Hedderwick) Owen (Euan McIver) Jim (Nigel Warren)
Duns Players stage an episode of The Vicar of Dibley in a double bill with Steptoe and Son''Geraldine (Kate Lester) David (Jerry Ponder) Hugo (DC) Alice (Charlotte Tait) Letitia (Celia Hedderwick) Frank (Mike Hedderwick) Owen (Euan McIver) Jim (Nigel Warren)

Settling down in my seat at the Volunteer Hall last week I felt the need to open a bag of Werthers Originals as the evening had a real family in front of the TV feel.

The occasion was the opening night of Duns Players’ double header of ‘Steptoe & Son’ and ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, and if the Lord himself was a fan of the latter I’m sure he would be roaring in approval in the way both it and the father and son sitcom was presented.

What the Players do best is get the laughs without desperately trying to do so.

And the scripts of the two BBC favourites helped them to continue this trend with topical gags of the time, classic British slapstick and some rather touching moments.

First into the arena was ‘Steptoe & Son’, which I must confess was before my time so was being watched with no preconceptions from this particular audience member.

But I will say that stalwart fan of the hit series or not, what the Players performed was a fantastic piece of comedy that could stand alone as exactly that in its own right.

The characters of Albert and Harold Steptoe are ones that are ingrained in the minds of many; they were as much part of the furniture in many 1960s homes as a dodgy sideboard so the task of slipping into the roles was not an easy one for Bob Noble and John Schofield.

They could have gone about their job one of two ways; by trying to imitate the original actors to the note or pay tribute to them while putting their own spin on the characters.

They opted for the second which was very much to the audience’s benefit as rather than feeling like a poor man’s ‘Steptoe & Son’ last week’s version felt very much like a Duns Players piece. Bob and John’s individual personalities were allowed to shine during the script- round of applause to first time director Helen Forsyth for bringing Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s words to life.

The cast of four was completed by Christine Sclater and Genny Dixon as Albert’s love interest Dorothy and spiritualist Madame Fontana.

These were two very different roles for the women who were last seen as a racy Calendar Girl and a house servant respectively and Genny really did steal the show, taking eccentric to a whole new level.

The British charm of ‘Steptoe’ jumped three decades to the 1990s for act two, an Easter tale from the parish of Dibley.

Like many others when I hear ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ I automatically think Dawn French but after seeing Kate Lester in the famous role, the thought process may no longer be so clear cut.

Like Bob and John, Kate didn’t attempt to do a carbon copy of her predecessor, playing the role of the vicar her own way rather than kneel at the altar of French.

The Dibley clan all have their own quirks and whether it was Charlotte Tait’s dippy Alice, Nigel Warren’s stammering Jim, Mike Hedderwick’s pedantic Frank, Euan McIver’s straight to the point Owen, Celia Hedderwick’s batty Letitia or the hilarious Hortons played by Jerry Ponder and DC, they made the audience feel they had pulled up a chair at a meeting of the parish council.

Young director Matt Taylor should be mightily proud of himself for being at the helm of the successful adaptation. Tinkering with a national treasure is a risky move but the Players take on the much loved show was holy entertaining. And like ‘Calendar Girls’ last year, with the death of Letitia the Players showed they could toe the line between heartache and humour without over egging the pudding.

The perfect way to spend a chilly Thursday evening.