Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Last of the Summer Wine - Darlington Civic Theatre

Last Of The Summer Wine: The Moonbather
Writer: Roy Clarke
Director: Chris Jordan
Reviewer:Ian Cain

The popularity of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ is a phenomenon that cannot be disputed. The classic television series, written by Roy Clarke, has been a stalwart of the sit-com genre since it first appeared as part of the BBC’s ‘Comedy Playhouse’ in January 1973. Since then it has notched up 30 series’ and amassed a legion of ardent fans from a cross-section of the viewing public.

The success of the programme spawned a prequel, ‘First of the Summer Wine’, and two feature length ‘made for television’ films. In 1984 a stage version of the show enjoyed a successful summer season in Bournemouth. Twenty five years after the first stage production, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ is back in the theatre with Roy Clarke’s show, sub-titled ‘The Moonbather.’

The cast is led by Ruth Madoc as Meg, and also stars Tony Adams as Mr Pilbeam, and Steven Pinder as Gifford Bewmont. The trio of geriatric delinquents are played by John Pennington (Foggy), Harry Dickman (Compo) and Timothy Kightley (Clegg) and all three give convincing performances as ‘the definitive’ line-up of characters.

The story revolves around Foggy’s attempt to woo the meek Samantha (Gillian Axtell) away from hapless Gifford Bewmont. The couple have been engaged for fourteen years and the relationship seems to have stalled. Foggy’s intention to hold a soirée at Clegg’s house, in an attempt to charm the woman of his affections, is hampered by her overbearing sister, Meg, Compo, and a streaker who is prowling the village.

This production’s heart is in the right place and the vast majority of the audience – who were mainly senior citizens – did not notice, or chose to overlook, the careless and silly errors that marred the overall effect. I, on the other hand, did wonder why Norman Clegg has a letter box on the door of his sitting room that leads into the hallway. Neither was I convinced that, despite the quaintness and charm of Holmfirth, the trees grow symmetrically.

Despite the fact that the pace of the show is synonymously ‘gentle’, this production does have sections that can only really be described as slow. That said, there are some great one-liners tucked away within the script.
The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst the three old chaps are to be commended, Estelle Collins and Ian Marr are considerably less able as Nora Batty/Marina and Wally Batty/Howard, and Ruth Madoc’s attempt to make the two-dimensional Meg more interesting results in a performance that is far too ‘over the top’.
Having seen a whole host of popular television sitcoms transfer to the stage recently – there’s been ‘Allo Allo’, ‘Dinnerladies’ and ‘Porridge’ to name a few – I reluctantly have to admit that ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ is by far the least successful of them all.

Runs until Sat 14th Nov
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