Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Tart and the Vicar's Wife - The Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle

The Tart and the Vicar’s Wife by Joan Shirley
Director: Ian Dickens
Reviewer: Ian Cain

Glenda Parry (Linda Armstrong) and her husband Robert (Marcus Hutton) were the archetypal successful couple – him an affluent businessman, her the glamorous ‘exec’ wife with all the trappings of wealth – until Robert escaped unscathed from a horrendous car crash and decided to devote his life to God and become a vicar.

Glenda consequently finds herself thrust into a complete transformation. Instead of organising extravagant dinner parties she finds herself organising the village fete and solving the problems of all who arrive on her doorstep. Certain aspects of her life don’t conform to the expectations of her new-found role as a vicar’s wife, least of all the salacious short stories that she writes under a pseudonym for a women’s magazine, and she struggles to make ends meet and in dealing with her new identity crisis.

When Robert leaves for a four-week seminar, Glenda turns to her friends Kate, the frumpy farmer’s wife (Suzie Chard), Pru, the posh antiques dealer (Sarah Jane Buckley) and Sindy, a young American back-packer (Nicola Weeks), for support – all of whom are in similar financial distress.

Then Joe Carpenter, a millionaire lottery winner (Matt Healy), turns up in the village to seek Reverend Parry’s help in exorcising his haunted manor house. Instead, he meets Glenda and her friends who end up baring their souls to him and discovering just how far they will go for money!After several glasses of wine, the decision is made. With Joe as their minder and his associate Selina (Danielle Johnson) as advisor, the girls agree to temporarily become high class escorts to ease their financial burdens. However, the constant appearances of the vicar’s curate, Reverend Henry Benson (Daniel Crowder) results in some awkward situations and great comedy moments.

This racy revival marks the first tour of ‘The Tart and the Vicar’s Wife’ since 1980, and Ian Dickens’ Productions seem to have taken this responsibility very seriously. The result is a resounding success which represents an hilarious evening’s entertainment intertwined with a topical ‘credit-crunch’ theme that certainly strikes a chord. David North and Alan Miller-Bunford have done a magnificent job in creating a set that perfectly depicts the large kitchen of the Reverend and Mrs Parry’s five bedroom period cottage, complete with rustic exposed beams and stone walls.

The decadence of the comic capers involving feather boas, strawberry yoghurt and Shirley Temple song and dance routines are interspersed with some dramatic and poignant moments during which the main characters reveal the reasons that have led them to their respective situations.

The entire cast are truly excellent, however special mention must be made of Linda Armstrong. Miss Armstrong took over the lead role as a last-minute replacement for Bernie Nolan, who had to withdraw from the production ‘due to intense commitments’ with the forthcoming Nolan Sisters reunion tour, and after a rehearsal period of only five days gave a faultless performance. ‘The Tart and the Vicar’s Wife’ is, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable comedy-drama’s that I have seen for some time and I would recommend that you book your seats as a matter of urgency.

‘The Tart and the Vicar’s Wife’ is on an extensive national tour.
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