Allo Allo, what a farce in Rene’s wartime cafe

Campbell McNeill as Rene with Maureen Gillie as Edith BMCB 26
Campbell McNeill as Rene with Maureen Gillie as Edith BMCB 26

Listen very carefully I will say this only once - if you weren’t at Eyemouth Variety Group’s ‘Allo Allo’ last week whit were you thunking?

Chaotic, risque and ridiculous from beginning to end the variety group’s performance of the iconic 1980s television series of ‘Allo Allo’ was a highly entertaining trip down memory lane for many of the audience, some of them exhausted at the end of the show from laughing so much. And on the first night some were even talking about returning to see it again for the next two nights they enjoyed it so much.

Dawn Matthews as Mimi, Campbell McNeill was Rene and Karen Short played Yvette BMCB 20

Dawn Matthews as Mimi, Campbell McNeill was Rene and Karen Short played Yvette BMCB 20

With an absolute gem of a script the cast were off to a great start. The brilliant scripts of the television show, which for those who don’t know is based in a French cafe during World War 2, are replicated in the stage show and Eyemouth Variety Group more than did it justice.

There was a poignancy to the performance, coming soon after the recent death of Gorden Kaye who played Rene in the television series. Campbell McNeil’s performance as Rene was a fitting tribute to Gordon as he got more and more stressed caught between the Gestapo and the Resistance who both frequented his cafe and trying to hide his affairs from his wife Edith.

To make a stage farce work timing is everything and in this Campbell excelled - whether it was interacting with fellow actors or asides to the audience, he proved just what a skilled performer he has become.

All the familiar characters were there in Rene’s cafe. Rene’s wife Edith (Maureen Gillie) was magnificently bad in her cabaret performances, and waitresses Yvette and Mimi - one flirty and one small but scary - added to the general cafe chaos. The ‘French’ policeman who mispronounces almost every word was there as was Michelle the most indiscreet resistance fighter, the British airmen hiding in the cellar, and the contingent of German officers including Herr Flick and his girlfriend Helga, plus Italian lothario Captain Bertorelli.

In true farce style ‘Allo Allo’ reels from one chaotic, outrageous situation to another. Resistance activist Leclerc (David Wilson), cunningly disguised as a parrot salesman, arrives in the cafe and sells a cockatoo (stuffed with a resistance radio) to Rene, so he can keep in touch with the British who are trying to arrange safe passage back to England for the airmen hiding in Rene’s cellar. Rene’s inability to work the radio leads to innuendo-laden verbal confusion, particularly between Rene and Lieutenant Gruber (Jack Ritchie) who is in love with Rene.

Meanwhile the valuable painting of the Madonna with the big boobies is hidden in a sausage in Rene’s kitchen, but so is a fake painting and so it goes on.

More verbal innuendo and laughter provoking nonsense comes from Crabtree the British agent masquerading as a French gendarme and the scriptwriters show there is no end to the amount of fun you can have by using the wrong vowels in a word. Rory Fairbairn as Crabtree had great delivery of these endless mispronunciations and never faltered on the night.

‘Allo Allo’s’ brilliance is the mix of verbal and physical comedy. From a striptease down to swastika underwear involving Helga and Herr Flick to a compromising threesome as an inflatable Hitler developed a puncture, the laughs just went on and on, culminating in the final scene with four Hitler impersonators and three Herman Goerings on stage.

For a performance to succeed it’s not just the actors on stage who are essential and those responsible for ‘Allo Allo’s’ scenery, costumes, music and lighting have to stand up and take a bow for their contribution to the show. Their attention to detail all added to the atmosphere and slickness of the show transporting the audience to war time France.