BASED on David Croft and Jimmy Perry’s successful TV series which won a BAFTA Award for best comedy series in 1984, this stage version has all the much loved regular workers who inhabited Maplins Holiday Camp at the end of the 1950s when this play is set.
Because of repeats, which can still be seen on daytime TV, these characters are as vivid in the minds of audiences as they were when they first graced our home screens between 1980 and ‘88 when the series was first shown. The audience knew exactly what the characters should look and sound like, and would be disappointed if that innocent comedy from an earlier era was not presented to them on the stage of the ARC Theatre.
The great problem co-directors Jo Zeigert and Chris Pollock and their cast faced was how how to bring those TV characters alive without slavishly mimicking the originals. Physically, with one or two glaring exceptions, they achieved this aim very well with the camp entertainers looking radiant in their bright Yellow Coats.
The biggest exception was Paul Grainger who played Ted Bovis the camp’s leading presenter, and comic. Hard as he fought, he could not overcome the drawback of a poor slick Elvis/DA-style wig that robbed the character of any reality, and the loveable con-man rogue became a mere shadow of a man.
Fortunately for Cameron Runyeard-Hunt, who showed a great sense of fun as Ted’s junior comedy partner Spike, he only had to wear an unconvincing “metal” dustbin and lid costume in one scene. He brought a nice slight touch of pathos to the role as he sought to protect Ted from his ex-wife, Stella Greaves, and her summons-bearing solicitor.
One of the most difficult role to re-interpret is that of the camp Entertainment Manager, the public school educated Jeffrey Fairbrother. Tim Knott captured much of the character without ever quite matching the wonderful diffident underplaying of Simon Cadell.
The less subtly written Gladys Pugh, sports organiser and camp radio announcer, and would-be Yellow Coat, chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw may be easier to portray, but have to be played with no inhibitions, as they were by Becky Holden and Katie Tiley.
Sandie Brookes and Alan Rutland as the forever-bickering ballroom dancers Yvonne and Barry Stuart-Hargreaves, Peter Tapp as a very frustrated riding instructor Fred Quilley, and Chloe Johnson as the flirtatiously glamourous Sylvia all created characters well in the style of the originals.
None of them however could match Tony Giddings, whose sour faced grumpy child hating Punch and Judy man Mr Partridge could have stepped straight out of one of the original episodes of Hi-Di-Hi.
The ARC is not the easiest to the easiest of theatres on which to change sets, but it does have a good width and stage manager Maxson Bailey and his crew took full advantage of this keep this multi-scene production flowing at a goodly speed. Which made the pause every time the area down stage left where Gladys Pugh’s Radio office was permanently set, awaiting her entrance to broadcast her regular greeting to the campers “Hello campers, Hi-Di-Hi”, appear completely unnecessary.
This sort of mis-timing, which also crept into some of the dialogue exchanges, robbed the production of a sense of urgency and with it also lost some of the laughs that are so much a part of this lovely period piece of comedy. There was still plenty to enjoy in this production, but with more energy in the presentation and tighter cueing, many of the gentle smiling responses from the audience would have been turned into raucous laughter.