Review by Rob Chantler
The Manor Players and The Shepperton Players came together under Olwen Holme to bring the stage version of the much loved British sitcom to an appreciative audience at the Riverside Arts Centre. There is so much to say about how entertaining the production was, and how much the energy and enjoyment from the cast members just flooded out.
Café Rene was a simple set that captured the essence of a sleepy café in a small town unaccustomed to the farcical going-ons that ensued as Rene was caught between keeping happy the Nazis, and the French resistance.
Robert Hardy looked every inch the part as Rene, playing him as a little more highly strung than Gordon Kaye’s laid back portrayal, and given the pace of the stage play, this characterisation worked very well. As his sexually frustrated, tone deaf wife Edith, Sue Ford was superb, capturing the character perfectly and delivering everything, as you would expect with an impeccable French accent. The chemistry between Robert and Sue was also wonderful.
Very much an ensemble piece, everyone did a superb job. Carrie Millinger was perfect as Rene’s mistress/sexy waitress Yvette and Abigail Murrell’s waitress/bodyguard Mimi was likewise beautifully done.
I wanted to single out several other performances I felt were particularly outstanding for various reasons – Rob Day as Col. Kurt, Alan Saunders as Capt. Alberto, Howard Tame as Lt. Gruber, Peter Cornish as Herr Flick, James Ford Bannister as Crabtree, and Juliana Anderiesz as Michelle.
Helga and Von Schmelling’s (Katherine Lewis and Richard Fordyce).roles were smaller by comparison but they took every opportunity to shine when they had their moments, and we had a good laugh at Leclerc (Steve Lewis) with his disguises and the occasionally popping up British airmen (David Young and Ben Roberts)
Olwen’s direction was light, and pacy, and she got real momentum for her cast. The timing was wonderful, the physical comedy touches were lovely and some scenes were absolutely hilarious, especially the scene with the inflatable Hitler – I shall say no more about that – you have to see it.
Technically, there were some clever touches too, particularly the flickering light from the imaginary screen projected onto the characters in the cinema scene. There was also a scene which required Rene to step out of the action to narrate, during which a lighting change and freezing of action on the set worked very well to make that obvious. All the lighting and sound effect cues were spot on and the volume was just right, and the addition of a live pianist (Colin Lewis) in the café was an added bonus that worked really well.
As a writer and director myself, who has had the honour of working with some of the cast, I knew that with so much talent, it would be a great evening – and it was. It was spirited and energetic with lots of laughs to be had and some wonderful comic highlights, and was very faithful to the essence of the TV series. You want to leave a show like this with a warm, happy feeling, still chuckling to yourself and I can guarantee you will get that feeling when you come and see the show.
It’s on until Saturday July 2nd and there are still tickets available so do come along.