Review by Caroline Jenner of the Garden Suburb Theatre Company's production of "Allo Allo" at the Bull Theatre, High Barnet, May 10, 2013
For much of the audience the stage show of ’Allo Allo’ is only ever going to be as funny as you found the original sitcom which was written by David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd and broadcast on BBC One from 1982 to 1992. David Croft was also responsible for the theme music which Garden Suburb Theatre Company had playing discreetlyin the background as audience members arrived to their production at the Bull Theatre in High Barnet on Friday, May 10th
The original series relied on recurring scenarios so there was almost a sense of déjà vu as we were introduced to old friends like the painting of the Fallen Madonna with the big boobies concealed in a knackwurst, Edith singing appallingly and the lascivious Italian Captain Bertorelli .The open stage immediately took us to a small town café in Nazi-occupied France during World War II with chairs and tables, the bar, the clock through which the two British airmen could appear and, stage left, a small area to represent the larder, which had a handy window for people to climb in and out at appropriate moments. The set was functional but created the scene of the café well. However, the transfers to Gestapo and SS offices were a little clumsy slowing the momentum of the play. Perhaps the cast members could have helped taking props and furniture on and off to speed up the changes and keep up the pace.
Humour was created through dropped trousers, compromising positions and flashes of underwear, both male and female, all well-established comedic devices along with classic lines such as ‘I shall disappear up your back passage’ and ‘do you want a cockatoo?’. I took my father, who had never seen a whole episode of ‘Allo Allo’ and we both chuckled at the humour which was almost the funnier for being so familiar. Whether they were caught unawares or also simply enjoying the comfort of the familiar, the predominantly middle-aged audience were thoroughly enjoying the show. How much of the ‘saucy seaside postcard’ humour and the repeated lines which had us in stitches were wasted on the younger members of the audience who had come to see friends and family only they will know!
Well drawn believable characters are not what an audience is looking for in a production of ‘Allo Allo’. The fact that the characters are stereotypical caricatures means that actors taking on the roles have a very good starting point for their performance and this was particularly evident with the arrival on stage of Jon Musker as René. Skilfully holding the piece together with style and humour, he wore his apron with aplomb and took control of the scene beautifully with his world weary rendition of the hen-pecked, beleaguered café ownerwho's oddly appealing to his female staff. In the style of a true farce, René attempts to keep everyone happy – the Resistance, the occupying Nazis, the Gestapo – while also keeping his affairs with his two waitresses from each other and from his wife, the sharp-tongued Edith. Played by Mary Groom her performance was a fitting tribute to the late Carmen Silvera – she even managed to be suitably off-key with the cabaret singing!
Rachel Berg and Antonia White sashayed around the stage as Yvette and Mimi – the lascivious waitresses- whilst Laura Brocklesby turned in a very creditable performance as Michelle, the star of the Resistance. Other significant roles were consummately performed by Simon Ramsay as Colonel Ludwig Von Schmelling; Carl Underhill as Colonel Von Strohm; Natalie White, the voluptuous Helga; Jon Glatter’s Captain Bertorelli, with an eye for the ladies and a dash of Latin bravado; Geoff Prutton’s sinister yet hilarious Herr Flick; Fred Griessen, the master of see through disguises Leclerc; Omer Warman’s excellently camp Gruber and a special mention for my favourite character, Officer Crabtree, Ed Smith, the British agent posing as a French policeman who beautifully distorted all his vowels so that he was virtually incomprehensible. Unfortunately some actors seemed to be trying so hard with the accents that they appeared to struggle with projection and odd lines were lost.
Although the plotline occasionally flags, particularly the introduction of the cheese bombs, a story which goes nowhere simply fizzling out during the second half, the final scene with a stage full of phoney Fuhrers is hilarious. There are a number of other memorable moments such as the freeze-frame to allow René to explain the plot, a ridiculous inflatable Hitler and even a booby-trapped stocking.
The uniforms and costumes were excellent having been sensibly hired in from ‘alloallo – hire.co’, however those which were sourced by Frances Musker were equally effective and helped to add to the authenticity of the play. In places the lighting was a little patchy with perhaps some cues coming in slightly early and of course an unexpected appearance of a set of barn doors, which came crashing into the audience at the beginning of the second half. Congratulations to the cast for making sure that the show went on and particularly Jon Musker for the brilliant line ‘I’m really sorry to ask you to repeat that ….’ In response to Michelle’s line ‘Listen very carefully I will say this only once..’ which had been the last line spoken as the barn doors crashed. A highly amusing recovery!
Director Joyce Piper has done a great job and the cast are to be commended on maintaining such a high level of energy throughout the performance.