For their first season of the year, the 1812 Theatre have chosen another British comedy in ‘Allo ‘Allo. Written by successful British comedy writing duo, David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd, ‘Allo ‘Allo was a popular BBC sitcom in the 1980’s. The story is set in the cafe of a German-occupied town in France during the second world war. The 85 episode sitcom spanned a decade, with numerous convoluted and interwoven plots around the, somewhat unattractive, cafe owner, Renee, who is having an affair with two of his very attractive waitresses and trying to hide this from his wife, Edith. The cafe is being used as a safe hiding place for two British airmen who the French Resistance are trying to return to England. Several members of the German army are regulars at the cafe and consider Renee to be a trustworthy ally to hide the prized painting of “The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies”, which they plan to sell after the war and live off the proceeds. The painting is constantly changing hands, with everyone wanting to claim it. If that wasn’t enough, one of the German officers is gay and happens to fancy Renee.
The play version manages to incorporate all of these plot threads, to the delight of fans of the show. The many threads of this story line require a large cast, with a mix of highly experienced performers and those making their debut in this play. The range of experience did show through in certain scenes. Some accents were better than others but the nationality of each character was clear.
Directed by Dexter Bourke, the essence of the ‘Allo ‘Allo can all be found within this play and the laughs come thick and fast from the opening. Fans of the show will enjoy the anticipated lines and moments in the play – from the random appearance of the British airmen to lines such as “listen very carefully, I shall say this only once” and the famous painting of the fallen Madonna. There were a few missed lines that could be put down to opening night jitters, but the cast responded quickly and adapted.
As a fan of the comedy series, it was hard not to compare the original characters with those on the stage. Bourke has not attempted to create a replica version, but allow for enough recognition and familiarity whilst also allowing the performers some degree of creativity within their characters.
Alan Ashby sounds the part as Renee, but his voice tended to be quiet and at times it was difficult to hear him, even from the fourth row. His French accent was good, but he could be encouraged to show a broader range of emotions. He tended to come across as somewhat nonchalant and laissez-faire about what was going on around him. The basis of the character is there, and with more performances, hopefully Ashby settles into the role and has the confidence to push the emotional side of Renee. Similarly, Matt Ducza, as the gay Lieutenant Gruber, could also increase the campness of his character and flirtatious connection to Renee. Rachel Aza gave a more comic version of Michelle compared to the more serious character from the sitcom. Jackie Hutchinson is fabulous as Edith and does a great job in her off-key cabaret performance.
Allon Dinor is excellent as Crabtree, the Brit who is disguised as a French Gendarme and speaks with an appalling French accent. He delivers his ridiculous pronunciations with clarity and perfect timing which allows the audience to effectively mentally interpret what he has just said and respond with laughter.
The random appearance of the British airmen was hilarious.
The clever set is designed by Neil Barnett and allowed for several scenes to be accommodated on the relatively small stage. The numerous scene changes were managed efficiently by the cast and crew. The lighting design by Robin Le Blond helped to create separate performance spaces for different scene locations. Sound, also designed by Robin Le Blond, was executed with precision on the night.
‘Allo ‘Allo is an entertaining night of theatre and fans of the BBC sitcom will enjoy this play which captures the hilarity of the characters they already love and should only improve as the cast settle into their roles.