Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Pools Paradise - Darlington Civic Theatre

Pools Paradise By Philip King
Directors: Ian Dickens & Giles Watling
Reviewer: Ian Cain

The tenth summer Repertory Season at Darlington Civic Theatre rounds off with the second instalment of Philip King’s ‘See How They Run’ trilogy, ‘Pools Paradise.’

The action takes place in the vicarage of the small village of Merton-cum-Middlewick. The vicar’s wife, Penelope Toop (Kathryn Dimery), has been enticed by Ida (Julia Main), the maid and her doltish boyfriend Willie Briggs (Frankie Fitzgerald) into a flutter on the football pools, which seem to have come up trumps.

The win, however, is not a certainty. It must be checked and this is where the complications set in. In true farce tradition it has its protagonists, the pious Reverend Lionel Toop (David Callister) and the straight-laced, but sexually frustrated, spinster Miss Skillon (Helen Jeckells), who are both dead set against gambling. Throw in a clutch of clergymen and another pools coupon and you soon have a household in a high state of confusion as coupons are switched and switched again, trousers are lost and the inevitable breathless pursuits in and out of cupboards occur that are so familiar to lovers of vicarage farces.

Although there is nothing groundbreaking about ‘Pools Paradise’, it does have a certain twee, quaint charm that appeals to the audience it tends to attract. Most patrons in the auditorium were aged sixty or over and, I suppose, to them the play was a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, back to the days when priests were looked upon as respected pillars of the community. That taken into consideration, it was probably thought of as quite racy to see the vicar without his trousers or surreptitiously skulking in a closet with another clergyman.

David Callister gives a competent performance as Reverend Toop, but is far outshone by Kathryn Dimery as his wife Penelope. Dimery – a cross between Jane Asher and Liza Goddard – almost brings believability to the madcap set of circumstances that she finds herself in and, in doing so, virtually acts everybody else off the stage.

The plays two ‘star’ names, Frankie Fitzgerald (nasty Nick Cotton’s son, Ashley, from ‘EastEnders’) and Ben Roberts (Chief Inspector Derek Conway from ‘The Bill’) perform roles that provide little justification for top billing. Roberts, as the Bishop of Lax, is required to do little more than read out the pools results from the News of the World, whilst Fitzgerald doesn’t do anything more than grunt a few monosyllabic words now and again.

David Janson (the milkman in ‘Keeping Up Appearances’) is passable as Reverend Arthur Humphrey, but Julia Main (Ida) and Helen Jeckells (Miss Skillon) overact so badly that the production descends into the realms of pantomime.
Although this production has, undoubtedly, been staged with the best of intentions, it is simply too old-fashioned and the humour too dated for it to be a commercial success in the twenty-first century. Even the prayers of a Bishop and two vicars aren’t enough to save it.

‘Pools Paradise’ runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 4th July 2009.
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