Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Allo Allo - Review - Customs House 25th Sept

Allo Allo
Ion Productions 
South Shields G&S
Customs House

“Allo Allo” - another of those favourite TV comedies, watched and loved on the small screen, with characters so well known they feel like family…now transformed into a stage show with new, different actors. Perhaps it would be too hard to put aside the memories and accept different people in those roles? After all, the new people may not fit, they may not “become” those characters so well known and beloved.

Not surprising then that, waiting for the play to start, I was filled with an equal mix of excitement, anticipation, and trepidation. In front of me on the stage, the set was unmistakably a French café, the chairs stacked on the tables, the piano and the bar – it looked right. And then the music started - it sounded right, so far! But so far I hadn’t met any of the characters. Then came Rene! Aproned, diffident…and sounding unmistakably French. He looked right, and he sounded right. The trepidation began to disappear, and the anticipation to build. I began to relax. It was almost certainly going to be ok! My old friends were going to be safe! And indeed they were - what followed was a very funny and very sympathetic reproduction of the antics of the inhabitants of German occupied Nouvion.  The silly situations, the silly accents, the unending double-entendres, and of course, Madame Edith’s beautiful singing. The audience really should have been given complimentary cheese as we took our seats! Caroline Wells managed to hit all the wrong notes in a breathtaking and ear-splitting performance of Edith’s cabaret!

I watched and listened and laughed at the accents, and the preposterous plans, and the old familiar jokes, waiting for the catch phrases, knowing they were coming and laughing with childlike glee when they were spoken.

I can’t begin to suggest one character was better played than another, each one was brilliant in their own way. Highlights for me were Hannah Olszowki, who had Yvette’s guttural accent off to a 'T', and Craig Richardson’s brilliantly camp Lieutenant Gruber and of course, Crabtree with his preposterous “French” played by Ian Reah. I must also make mention of Captain Bertorelli’s impersonation of Adolf Hitler. It was almost impossible to distinguish him from the real thing! David Hopper’s Bertorelli very nearly out-camped Leiutenant Gruber.

Almost all of the action takes place in the café, with some nifty movement of the scenery or additional props used, to create the German’s office, the larder in the café, or the cinema (where Helga seduces vital information from Capt Bertorelli). Spotlights on the relevant scene and freeze framing the rest of the stage is used to good effect to focus the audience’s attention where it was needed. So the story was built up in a series of sketches, all pulled together by Rene’s (David Cooke) explanatory asides to the audience.

Not everything ran smoothly of course. One or two accents slipped towards the end of the play, and a couple of lines were stumbled over, and occasionally the timing was a little bit out, but overall this was a very enjoyable funny show. Allo Allo fans would not be disappointed in it.

Allo Allo runs until 29th Sept and is well worth seeing.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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