Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Dinnerladies - Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Victoria Wood
Adaptor/Director: David Graham

Reviewer: Bill Avenell

This production was taken from scripts of the popular 1998-2000 TV series and neatly adapted by David Graham to produce a simple story line but at the same time develop those humorous idiosyncrasies of the characters that underlies much of Victoria Wood’s style and her success as a comedy writer and performer. A style that is a mixture of some very subtle ’takes’ on the quirks of human behaviour, some very unsubtle belly laugh humour together with a liberal dose of pathos to make you stop and think every now and then.

The problem for me was that Victoria Wood (and for that matter Julie Walters, Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston) were not in it and the cast (with the exception of Andrew Dunn, the original Tony in the series and Sue Devaney) was therefore seemingly caught in doubt as to whether to do impressions of the original production or try to find an original take, not easy since this was written as a vehicle for Wood and Co.

To her credit Laura Sheppard as Bren pulled it off for me after I got used to the fact that she wasn’t Victoria (I was surprised in retrospect that the publicity and programme did not credit Sheppard as one of the ’stars’ although the programme was usefully informative for someone who had not seen the original). Tony Dunn’s performance was also enjoyable and he gave a commendably fresh reprise of a role he must have played many times before, causing the play to move at a good pace. The supporting cast was less successful but the wit of Wood’s lines overcame some slightly wooden performances on the one hand and a bit of overacting on the other which, to be fair, must be one of the difficulties of performing in this type of production.

Helped by Malvern Hostick’s single but effective set of the staff canteen (complete with toaster centre stage and a nifty digital message board) and some period musical interludes , the production gave an intimate feel which was certainly much appreciated by the small but very enthusiastic audience. I was surprised by the strength of this response. Many of the audience must have been fans of the series and therefore not new to the jokes and their reaction reinforced the impression that the cast must have done a pretty good job.

It is not the type of production that I would normally have chosen to see but I left the theatre with a rosy glow from having been involved in something fun and lively, and my young companion who had seen nothing of the TV series enjoyed it as a completely fresh experience.

So If you like Victoria Wood’s style and are prepared for the absence of her personal charisma then it is a good evening out and it probably doesn’t matter whether you have seen the original or not.

Runs until sat 7th Nov
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