The Vicar of Dibley by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, directed by Jasan Savage. UC Players at Gallery Café, University of Canberra Fridays and Saturdays November 16 December 15, 2007 (6.45pm dinner and show). Bookings essential 6201 2645.
The meal was tasty and very filling, while the show was like the curate’s egg - good in parts.
Act 1 between mains and dessert is The Easter Bunny (April 1996). Act 2 is the 1999 Christmas Day special. Translation from small screen to stage is not very successful, mainly because short scenes of dialogue with little physical action and almost no plot can work with Dawn French in close-up but have much less impact at even a short distance on a live stage.
Act 1 suffers particularly, except for Stella Wilkie’s performance of Letitia Cropley whose death was quite something to watch. Act 2 is more successful because it has a focus in the nativity play within the play, in which Tse Yee Tah made the farcical birth of Alice’s real baby during the performance of the “Greatest story ever told” very funny indeed.
Marie Carroll faced a difficult task in representing the Vicar Geraldine as played by French until Geraldine’s marriage and final show only last Christmas to a TV audience in Britain of 11.4 million. She looked the part, made a fair fist of the character and held the action together as well as the script allowed, but neither she nor the cast in general could match the crisp timing of the television shows, especially enhanced by snappy editing. It would take a much more sophisticated technical setup than is possible in the UC Café to create that effect.
Among the other actors I thought Richard Anderson as the earthy farmer Owen Newitt was best, though none let the team down. Costumes were effective, though I was a little surprised at a sound track including American Gospel singing which to me was out of place compared with the deliberately very English church choral music used in the original TV shows.
In the end, for me, this is ethnic English material in the centuries-long tradition of poking fun at their institutions like the Church (Anglican, of course). The opening night audience had a social night out, quite enjoyed themselves, were generally old enough to recognise the 1990s references and appreciate passable representations of characters they knew. Otherwise, I would have preferred Australian material, but perhaps there is not enough on television to guarantee an audience.
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