Vicar of Di­b­ley proves a joc­u­lar de­light

The Tribune (NZ) - - REVIEW -

The Vicar of Di­b­ley by Richard Curtis and Paul May­hew-Archer Di­rected by Joy McDon­ald for Manawatu Theatre So­ci­ety Globe Theatre Septem­ber 3 – 12 Re­viewed by Richard Mays

Chris­tine Tay­lor-Haus­man is a de­light­ful deadringer for the fa­mous Vicar of Di­b­ley char­ac­ter cre­ated by Dawn French. This pro­duc­tion based on the lon­grun­ning Bri­tish TV se­ries, is chock-full of mem­o­rable im­i­ta­tions in a faith­ful rein­car­na­tion of the pop­u­lar char­ac­ter-rich com­edy.

The chal­lenge with pre­sent­ing some­thing this well-known, is mak­ing it au­then­tic enough not to dis­ap­point the devo­tees, and this cer­tainly doesn’t dis­ap­point. The cast clev­erly pre­serve the ethos of a close-knit parochial English church com­mu­nity with all its petty parish pol­i­tics not to men­tion its prickly and provoca­tive per­son­al­i­ties.

The stage show melds to­gether episode one of the orig­i­nal se­ries, which un­der­stand­ably sees the ar­rival of Geral­dine as Di­b­ley’s first fe­male cleric, and ends with the en­gage­ment and wed­ding of dippy verger Alice Tinker to the awk­ward Hugo Hor­ton.

And in So­phie Belcher as the ‘‘brain by-passed’’ Alice, the show has its sec­ond star. Be­tween Geral­dine’s beam­ing vis­age, oc­ca­sion­ally tem­pered by id­iosyn­chratic gurn­ing and fa­cial con­tor­tions, and Alice’s spazzy phys­i­cal, men­tal and ver­bal gym­nas­tics, this pair are quite ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing the com­edy off on their own.

They don’t have to though, be­cause their fel­low cast mem­bers on the sin­gle set that spills across sev­eral lo­ca­tions, com­ple­ment their leads com­pletely.

Off to a slightly slow start, the sit­com steadily builds helped along by this menage of singlar char­ac­ters and good flow be­tween scenes.

There’s Ken Benn’s over­bear­ing and self-im­por­tant David Hor­ton, Dan Ma­teer’s semi-va­cant Jim Trott, Dy­lan Irvin’s as­per­gic Hugo, the un­couth­ness of Phillip Con­nors’ farmer yokel Owen Ne­witt and John Adams’ Frank Pickle.

And the good thing about any of these po­ten­tially scene-steal­ing roles is that they are all suc­cess­fully kept un­der con­trol, all work­ing with the pro­duc­tion. It’s this co­he­sion of char­ac­ters along with a re­mark­able flu­ency of pre­sen­ta­tion that as­sists the pro­duc­tion’s cred­i­bil­ity.

Among the com­ments picked up from the au­di­ence came this over­heard gem: ‘‘This is bet­ter than the TV show’’. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t re­ally mat­ter.

Di­rec­tor Joy McDon­ald has done a fine job of craft­ing a dis­ci­plined stand-alone pro­duc­tion that suc­cess­fully cap­tures enough of the nu­ances to make this a rather jolly night out.

Chris­tine Tay­lor-Haus­man as the Rev­erend Boadicea Geral­dine Grainger in the Manawatu Theatre So­ci­ety pro­duc­tion of The Vicar of Di­b­ley at the Globe. Photo: WAR­WICK SMITH/FAIR­FAX NZ

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