Allo, Allo, Mere Amateur Dramatic Society

IN an average week, we do one or two theatre reviews, one of which is usually a professional show. This week we will have done four, all amateur (plus a concert). Two in Yeovil – A Splinter of Ice at the Swan and YAOS’s Oklahoma! at Westlands – and Girl on the Train in Street. The range of productions, the talent of the acting companies, the skill of the technical and stage crews … always amaze us, but this has been an exceptional week.

The fourth show was in the Lecture Hall at Mere, where MADS staged the perennially hilarious ‘Allo ‘Allo, based on the hit BBC sitcom. Unlike some of the popular sitcom-to-stage shows, this one is not a string of episodes which scant connection, but a proper story, which allows the actors plenty of opportunity to develop their characters.

It’s a big cast show for a small group, and director Chris Woods was delighted that six Shaftesbury members joined them to people Rene’s cafe with the colourful cast of German and Italian officers, flirtatious waitresses, hidden British airmen and enthusiastic members of the Resistance.

The Lecture Hall was absolutely packed, which brought a real buzz of anticipation before the curtain opened on Cafe Rene. And the audience loved every minute of the show, which exploits and celebrates all those wartime comedy cliches – the hapless French cafe owner with the roving eye, the RAF men with their handlebar moustaches, the sadistic and vain SS officer, the vainglorious Italian officer with his chest-full of medals and the courageous Resistance workers with their complicated disguises and ruses.

The plot is so chaotic and complicated that one audience member commented to me in the interval queue for coffee that she had given up trying to understand what was happening and was just enjoying herself. In essence it is about a famous 17th century painting of “the Madonna with the big boobies” which is wanted both by the town’s German commandant and the Gestapo’s Herr Flick, (and by Rene and his wife as their post-war pension) and which (for reasons that pass understanding and don’t need explaining) is hidden in a large sausage. (Cue a lot of predictable but nevertheless big laughs).

The success of any production of ‘Allo ‘Allo depends on the casting of Rene, Edith and Herr Flick. MADS has two class acts in Jon Noble, who embodies the baffled, resourceful and lovable Rene and Steve Hawkes, who is Herr Flick to a T, with his harsh voice, stiff walk and preposterous vanity. And Penny Allen has huge fun as Rene’s put-upon wife Edith – her “cabaret” is a real show-stopper! They are supported by a cast without a weak link, and some extremely well-chosen music (my companion and I loved the choice and timing of Je t’aims …)

Since the first night was almost full, this is probably sold out for the rest of the week, but if you are anywhere near Mere and want a great laugh in a happy crowd, ‘Allo ‘Allo certainly hits the spot.



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