There was no divine intervention required last week to make ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ a massive success for the cast and crew of Berwick Operatic Society.
After climbing a Disney shaped mountain in the spring with ‘Beauty & the Beast’, the local company took on the BBC comic colossus and claimed another victory, one which I’m sure Dawn French and co would happily applaud.
As far as TV characters go I’d say French’s Geraldine Granger was up there with David Jason’s Delboy or Ricky Tomlinson’s Jim Royle as one of the most iconic, so slipping into the dog collar was a brave move for Wendy Ward.
This was Wendy’s first amateur dramatic performance for a number of years but there were absolutely no signs of rustiness. With more warmth than a John Lewis Christmas advert and a knack for comic timing any comedienne would salute, she was the perfect choice for Geraldine.
And plenty more of the cast who took their TV aliases by the scruff of the neck too.
Some directors would avoid imitating much-loved characters too closely for fear of setting themselves up for a fall, but Louise Wood did the opposite and it was to the show and the audience’s benefit.
Lisa Summers was right on the money as two sandwiches short of a parish picnic Alice Tinker. If you closed your eyes it was like you were taking in an episode of the hit show. Everything from her outfits to her voice and ditzy mannerisms were spot on, and Lisa upped the ante again for Alice’s scenes with fellow simpleton Hugo, played by Matthew Jenkins.
Like Lisa, Matthew got right to the heart of his character, from his nervous fidgeting to his eyecatching ties. The two worked well together, as did Lisa and Wendy when they shared their scenes as a double act. The on stage relationships between all of the cast were a joy to watch.
Jim Herbert’s loud, self assured, chest firmly pushed out David Horton was the perfect foil for the proudly pedantic Frank Pickles, brought to life in great fashion by Laurence Pearson.
And having been in the chorus for ‘Beauty & the Beast’, Jo Curtis stepped up to the plate as the culinary challenged Letitia Cropley, serving up a comedy treat.
More known for his fantastic playwriting of late than his acting, Robert Wilkinson made a triumphant return to Operatic duties as Owen Newitt. The deadpan way he went about his comedic task was lapped up by the audience and like Lisa.
Derek Butler too was an essential member of the congregation, getting the ‘no no no nos’ of Jim Trott down to a tee.
For me the second half outshone the first, which had a Dibley greatest hits feel to it with memorable moments from the TV series. But the second, with Alice and Hugo’s wedding looming, had a definite sense of direction helped along by some marvellous musical interludes.
My personal favourite was Jo and Derek’s interpretation of Spice Girls ‘2 Become 1’, backed by the four-strong Dibley choir which made scene changes more enjoyable throughout.
The cast’s youngsters - Colette Kaines-Lang, Bob Jeffrey, Corey Learmonth and Rachel Spain- were also a very welcome asset.
First time solo director Louise and her cast encapsulated the family feel of the TV series in their stage adaptation.
Accomplished performances from those normally on the fringes of the spotlight and some brilliant laugh-out-loud moments; a sermon I’d happily listen to again.
Geraldine Granger- Wendy Ward
David Horton- Jim Herbert
Hugo Horton- Matthew Jenkins
Lisa Summers- Alice Tinker
Jim Trott- Derek Butler
Frank Pickle- Laurence
Owen Newitt- Robert
Letitia Cropley- Jo Curtis
Woman- Felicity Tunnard
Children- Collette Kaines-
Lang, Bob Jeffrey, Corey
Learmonth, Rachel Spain
Choir- Walter Curtis, Iain Lowson, Susan Potts, Angela Winson
Director- Louise Wood
Assistant Director- Dilys Guthrie
Wardrobe- Sheila Bradford
Set Design- Jim Herbert
Stage Manager- Ian Clarke
Stage Crew- Ernest
Rathbone, Neil Skelly