Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Dinnerladies - Darlington Civic Theatre

Dinnerladies by Victoria Wood
Adapted & directed by: David Graham
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The immense popularity of ‘dinnerladies’ is a phenomenon that cannot be disputed. The cult television sit-com, written by Victoria Wood, ran for only 16 episodes over two series’ from 1998 – 2000, thus increasing its legendary status. When first shown, on BBC1, it rapidly attracted a legion of fans who held great affection for the show’s down to earth and endearing characters. It won numerous awards including Best Comedy at The British Comedy Awards in 2000. It also enjoys frequent repeat runs on the cable and satellite channel, G.O.L.D.

Now, over a decade after it disappeared from our prime-time television screens, The Comedy Theatre Company has lovingly revived this timeless and popular comedy classic as a stage show. The first national tour of the production boasts the added advantage of Shobna Gulati and Andrew Dunn reprising their roles as Anita and Tony, respectively.

Following the day-to-day lives of the kitchen staff in the canteen of HWD Components, a fictional factory in Manchester, audiences are able to relive the burgeoning romance between the canteen manager, Tony, and his deputy, Bren. As with so much of Victoria Wood’s work, the comedy is interspersed with bittersweet moments and sadder themes. David Graham’s adaptation does not dilute or diminish any of the emotion whatsoever and he has handled the scripts with a respect that seems almost reverential.

The characterisations are first class. The entire cast gave sterling performances, and it must surely be a daunting prospect to take on roles previously performed by consummate professionals including Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and Victoria Wood herself. Laura Sheppard’s performance as Bren is carefully crafted and about as close to Victoria Wood’s portrayal as any actress could ever hope to get. Surely, this must have been the result of many hours studying every nuance and mannerism that Wood originally injected into the character.
Liz Bagley and Stella Ross are a great comedy double act as the social climbing Dolly and acerbic Jean. Louise Dumayne captures Human Resources Manager Philippa’s dithering perfectly, whilst Emily Butterfield is suitably churlish as Twinkle. Barrie Palmer grumbles and gets his ‘dander up’ brilliantly as Stan and Jacqueline Clarke has a ball with the role of Petula. Joanna Lee Martin also puts in a wonderful cameo performance as Jane from the planning department.

Predictably, the biggest hits with the audience are Shobna Gulati and Andrew Dunn, and they each receive a rapturous welcome from the crowd when they make their stage entrances. Both performers slip comfortably and effortlessly into their characters as though they were putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers. Despite the fact that they are working with a new team, the camaraderie that was a joy to behold in the television series is blissfully evident in abundance.

Credit should also be given to Malvern Hostick for his set design, which is extremely authentic and to Frank Kershaw for providing authentically gaudy overalls, hats and tabards. This production supplies almost as many laughs as it does hot dinners, and one portion may not be enough to satisfy. Seconds anyone?

Dinnerladies runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 23rd May 2009.
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