Carol Ann Crawford
James Robert Carson
In a world dominated by tribute acts and musicals based on the back catalogues of once successful bands, it was only a matter of time before the invasion of stage versions of our most cherished comedies began. The concept is not new (there was a stage show of Dad’s Army in 1975 with the original cast), but this past year alone has seen live versions of, once again, Dad’s Army and The Likely Lads , with Porridge still to come.
And watching this touring production of ‘Allo ‘Allo! left me wondering why. Surely no-one thought that it could pack the same punch twenty-five years after the sitcom started, when making jokes about the French Resistance and Gestapo was still rather shocking? Whilst the recent Dad’s Army production was a stage version of the show’s ‘lost’ episodes that captured the charm and nostalgic elements of the sitcom, the comic appeal of ‘Allo ‘Allo! was always somewhat cruder, reliant on puns and punchlines. Get those wrong and there’s not a lot left.
Utilising the original writers, Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, the stage version delivers a technically original plot, albeit one firmly grounded in the scenario that spanned nine series on the television. So it witnesses the cafe owner, Rene, the German officers and the Gestapo all trying to lay their hands on the priceless painting The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Van Klomp, with knockwursts flying left, right and centre.
But it was disappointing to watch something that had been done so much better before. The sitcom delivered bite-sized half-hour episodes, where a sharp pace could be maintained throughout, and the final five minutes of total mayhem didn’t feel overblown. Spreading the same over two hours gave everything a more flaccid feel. In the series, Rene would start each week with a short monologue to keep everyone updated, but the setting of the scene here involved several characters and went on far too long. Similarly, where once we caught glimpses of Rene’s wife, Edith’s terrible singing, stretching this to a full cabaret act, complete with introduction and backing from the waitresses, was a bridge too far. Even the time it took to change scenes seriously affected the overall pace.
However the real problem was in the performances. Jeffrey Holland (Spike in Hi-de-Hi!) was simply too weak as Rene. Whilst Gordon Kaye on the television had a wonderful ability to utter the most sarcastic lines almost under his breath, Holland simply delivered them in his already appalling French accent. Vicki Michelle reprised her role of Yvette Carte-Blanche from the original series, but, whilst clearly the strongest cast member, she was seriously hampered by not being to interact with the likes of Kaye in her more intimate moments with Rene. Amongst the remainder, there were reasonable performances from Claire Andreadis as Mimi la Bonque, James Rossman as Herr Flick, and Nell Jerram as Helga Geerhardt, but they all still felt like pale imitations of the originals.
The only way in which this production advanced things at all was in the rudeness of its humour. The double entendres were still in evidence, but they were slightly stronger than in the past. So a microphone disguised as a caged bird, led to many jokes about being ‘given a cockatoo’, whilst the camp Lieutenant Gruber walked in to see both Officer Crabtree and Rene pumping up an inflatable Hitler from behind.
This was about as funny as it got. Though in the second half there was clearly an attempt to raise the level of the antics to those of the TV series, this show never succeeded in being anything more than mildly amusing at times.