Friday, 15 July 2016

‘Allo ‘Allo! – Review

What can one say about this show? Obviously, it’s very, very funny – as attested by the raucous laughter emanating from the audience at every performance so far. It is also the first show for a long while to be completely – and I mean completely – sold out at the Apollo. In fact, demand has outstripped seating capacity so much that we have had to disappoint huge numbers of people, to whom we apologise.

For those lucky enough to get tickets, this was a real treat of a show: audiences could get into the action very quickly, as the characters are already familiar to viewers of the long-running hit TV show, so as soon as the world-weary Rene entered his cafe, Yvette appeared, seductively whispering ‘Oh, Rene’, or Edith started to sing, we knew exactly what to expect.

The disadvantage of taking on such a popular show however, is the challenge of getting the characters exactly right, and without exception, the cast have captured the essence, and in many cases, uncannily the physical appearances, of their TV counterparts perfectly. This is due in no small measure to Steve Reading’s casting and directing, but also to the skills of the actors, augmented by the costume department coming up with just the right clothes, uniforms, wigs and so on. The cleverly designed, adaptable set, with a revolve enabling several places to be represented, also contributed to the atmosphere.

It would be unfair in such a talented cast to single individuals out for praise, as every single character was hilarious in their own way. However, one has to note the sheer physical stamina of Drew Adcock who, as a perfectly downtrodden Rene, carried the plot along throughout. He was ably assisted by Glenys Williams who delighted audiences with her beautifully off key singing, and by newcomers to the Apollo stage, Joanna Jenner, vamping it up as Yvette and Esther Poucher (Mimi), a wonderfully tiny ball of aggression.

Other regulars in the cafe – to Rene’s obvious dismay – were Maria Wilkinson’s Michelle, who delivered her catchphrase ‘I will say this only once’ perfectly, and managed to be believably a Resistance member even dressed as a nun and a ‘lady of the night’; and ‘It is I, Le Clerc’ played with fantastic eccentricity by Danny Carmichael. We also of course had regular visits from John Abraham’s  Officer Crabtree: quite apart from the mispronunciations, it will take a while to lose the memory of the ‘poloceman’ being caught by Gruber bending over with his trousers at half mast!

I mentioned wigs above, and the subplot of the Colonel’s ‘wiglet’ was played perfectly by Ian Moth as von Stromm himself, alongside Jack Tutt’s Bertorelli, winner of the most over the top Italian accent on the stage: his impersonation of Hitler telling a joke was a high spot of the night. Lieutenant Gruber, played by Dave Newton, deservedly received some of the loudest laughs with his physical comedy as he flirted outrageously with Rene.

The Gestapo was there of course, and Pete Harris’s Herr Flick captured every essence of the officer, from his cane and stiff-legged walk to his penchant for dressing up: Flick in a cinema usherette’s uniform had to be seen to be believed. Helen Reading as Helga was his perfect foil: her finest moment was her reaction to being asked to model the Gestapo suspender belt, complete with mousetraps: ‘and don’t cross your legs’! Reuben Loake, another Apollo newcomer, was excellent barking orders as General von Schmelling.

Add in a plot comprising a hidden Fallen Madonna painting; a few knockwurst sausages and a plot to impersonate Hitler; a couple of perfectly ‘hooray Henry’ airmen (Matt Coles and Lewis Wheeler), French peasants providing both atmosphere in the cafe and help with scene shifting, and the front of house staff (and some of the actors) mingling with audiences before the show and at the interval, and you have an amazing show.

Yes, they had a good script, written by the TV show’s original writers, Croft and Lloyd, as a basis, but the cast and crew of ‘Allo ‘Allo! have more than done justice to it – they have made it their own, and fully deserve the success they have achieved. Well done all!

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