The Vicar of Dibley, Street Theatre at Strode Theatre

MUCH-loved television shows like Blackadder and Dad’s Army have become a staple of the local amateur stage in recent years and now we can add The Vicar of Dibley to the list, thanks to an effervescent production by Street Theatre.

It’s easy to see why these classic television comedies are so popular, both for performers and for audiences – they are very funny with familiar, strongly-drawn characters, which offer plenty of acting opportunities for the companies and adapt easily to the two-act play structure.

Not all TV-to-stage adaptations do work well – the recent production of The Good Life which visited Bath was rather flat – but The Vicar of Dibley is a triumph. Adapters Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter have taken scenes from the first two series, and seemlessly wedded them together so that you get a proper narrative with all the beloved Dibley characters in their rustic and comical glory.

You have smelly Owen (Glynn Webster), fresh from the manure-covered corners of the farmyard, eager to plant his seed in any willing female, Jim “no no no no” Trott (Gareth Wanklin) with his Fairisle sweater and dithering impracticality, hand-made Letitia Cropley (Karen Squance), with her imaginative (but inedible) culinary creations, and pompous but endearing parish clerk Frank Pickles (Rob Trayhurn).

Lording it over everyone is arrogant David Horton (Barry Squance), lord of the manor, chairman of the parish council, and incandescent that his only (and evidently pretty dumb) son, Hugo (Kevin Hardacre), wants to marry the airhead verger, Alice Tinker (Jess Russell).

And bringing it all together is the new vicar – a woman, to David’s furious surprise – Geraldine Grainger, played at Street by Charlie Wood.

These characters are so familiar from the actors who played them, led by Dawn French as Geraldine, that it is a big ask for amateurs to take them on and make them their own.

The Street cast, ably directed by Paul Townsend, each do it in their own way, and each is a miniature delight, evoking memories of the originals while bringing the characters to new and comical life.

From the moment she appeared, there were audible gasps of appreciation at Jess Russell’s recreation of Alice. Every little shake and quiver and misunderstanding reminds us why this was probably the most popular of the village characters. She is well-matched with her vague but lovable Hugo.

Barry Squance (whose Sheriff of Nottingham remains one of my favourite pantomime villains) has all David Horton’s withering, entitled superiority, so that the chink of warmth, when it comes, is both surprising and touching.

Dawn French is not a hard act to follow – she would be impossible. Charlie Wood very sensibly makes Geraldine her own – you don’t see the delicious Dawn, you see Charlie/Geraldine, an energetic woman with the interests of her parishioners at the centre of her mission but with her own appetites too (her chocolate craving is hilarious). She bustles and bosses and is (quite understandably) impatient with Alice, but her real goodness shines through, and we all (even crotchety old David) come to love her.

The Vicar of Dibley at Street is a delight, a welcome back to live theatre for local audiences, hungry for a chance to have a laugh and a drink and a chat with friends. And huge congratulations to the stage team for a brilliant set, incorporating the church, the vestry, the parish council meeting room, and the hall, sitting room and kitchen of the vicarage.

The production runs to Saturday 13th November – see it if you can.


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