‘The Vicar of Dibley’ stage show is WA’s premiere of official adaptation by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter from the original 1990s BBC TV sitcom created by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer; they based it around the experiences of the Reverend Joy Carroll, one of England’s first female priests after the ‘reformation’ in 1992.
Two snippets about the TV series: Emma Chambers, who played Alice, won comedy actress of the year. Sadly, she died of a heart attack a couple of years ago, aged only 53. Trevor Peacock, the mad Jim Trott, penned Herman’s Hermits’ 1960’s massive pop hit ‘Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter’; he also wrote many other songs for Joe Brown, Adam Faith and Billy Fury – no, no, no, no, yes he did!
This stage adaptation of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ takes its source primarily from the first two series of the show aired between 1994 and 1998 and is different to the earlier Perth productions.
Under the supervision of production manager Rach Gilmour, this two and a quarter hour show is presented by Laughing Horse Productions and can be seen at The Koorliny Arts Centre, at 10 Hutchins Way, Kwinana. Curtain goes up at 7.30 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings on the 14th, 15th, 21st and 22nd May with SATURDAY matinées on 15th and 22nd May at 2.00 pm.
The Scene: Dibley, a small farming village in Oxfordshire.
The Set: Designer Adam Salathiel has divided the stage into two primary areas.
The dingy village hall, with its dark chocolate walls and two white doors. The Queen’s famous 1953 Machin photo overlooks the Council’s wooden table and chairs. On the opposite side of the stage is the vicarage set. Pale blue walls with a white front door at the rear. An entrance to the kitchen leads off the rear. A white net curtain hangs over the window above the vicar’s work desk. A double settee is centre set; in front of it is a TV set and coffee table; behind the settee is the vicar’s all essential drinks cabinet. Audience left, on the stage apron is the vicar’s Vestry – where she has her chats with the dim verger.
Set construction: A beautifully finished, rigid set. Congrats to Adam Salathiel, Sam Barnett, Tyler Bowen and crew.
Props Managers: Evan Bialas and Jodie Sweetman had a vast number of tricky items to find.
Soundscape: A memory-jerking selection of great hits from the 70s. Some unusual sound effects well delivered. Fine work by Mishka Miller and Danni Close.
Stage manager: Reliable Mishka Miller. A TV script, even when adapted for stage, tends to have an excess of short scenes that on TV can be instantly joined by the video editor; however, on the stage this can often involve major props changes and broken flow of the story line and pace; thankfully, this large backstage crew were very quick, well organised and silent. I smiled when a crew member entered carrying a fully laid out table, vertically under his arm. Well done Evan Bialas, Mishka Miller, Alysha Hasch, Kelly Salathiel, Cara Sexton and Quinn Parnell
Programme: smartly finished. Kelly Salathiel’s artwork with Richelle Hayward’s fun photographs.
The village of Dibley had a senile vicar for decades – and then he died. The Church headquarters said they would send a new vicar to replace him. A couple of weeks later, the Chairman of the Parish Council, David Horton (Peter Neaves) has his welcoming committee gathered in the village hall, excitedly awaiting the arrival of the replacement vicar. The door opens and to everyone’s horror a female vicar enters. She is the attractive Rev. Geraldine Granger (Karen Godfrey).
The senile and confused, Jim Trott (Robert Walker) welcomes the vicar with his own inimitable style. Church organist, Letitia Cropley (Sally Payne) rushes forward with a plate of her unique sandwiches but is pushed aside by farmer Owen (James Nailen-Smith) who wants to check Geraldine’s udders. The longwinded, pedantic council secretary, Frank Pickle (David Zuiddam) starts one of his garrulous welcoming speeches.
In the background, David Horton is already planning his complaints letter to the Archbishop, for being sent a mere second rate, female vicar.
When the vicar discovers the church’s atrocious attendance figures, she looks into starting a Sunday School, encouraging any children up to young teenagers to come along to her home for possible Bible Classes. Geraldine expects a gathering of knowledgeable innocents, only to be greeted by a strange mix that struggle with even basic religious questions. When Lizzie (Charlotte Sampson) and Abby (Chloë Nally-Olsen) give their answers, even the broadminded vicar is taken aback. Thankfully the three others, Katie (Amara Della Maddalena), Cameron (Blake Taaffe) and Luke (Peter Jacobs) are more refined.
It isn’t long before the vicar learns of David Horton’s wimpy son, Hugo’s (Callon Leam) deep feelings for Alice Tinker (Suzy June Wakeling), a loving, helpful but completely mad young lady who is the church’s verger.
The vicar is horrified when she encounters a very angry woman (Mishka Miller) with the intentions of disrupting a service.
Will the vicar ever be accepted?
When an audience goes to see a play based on a well-known TV series, the expectation of seeing the ‘real’ characters is often unfair, but I know that this show will satisfy even the hardest theatregoer. There were times when I forgot they were not the original TV cast. Thanks to the guidance of director Kelly Salathiel, the actors all had the local accent and advanced comedic delivery. The teamwork was exceptional.
Powerful and confident performances by all the youngsters.
A TV production has the luxury of editing when cutting rapidly from one venue to the next. On stage, this can often mean a set or costume change; this stage crew were splendid in both speed and silence, so the acting flow staggered little. The preplanning worked superbly.
The costumes were many and varied, but essential to carry the magic through from TV to stage. The outfits ranged from the vicar’s dignified ministerial garb, and her many sweaters, to Alice’s strange wedding dress. All the demanding work of the dedicated costumières Alyssa Hasch, Kelly Salathiel, Adam Salathiel, Jodie Sweetman and the cast.
Karen as the vicar, Rob Walker as old Jim Trott and Peter Neaves as David Horton were truly magnificent clones of the original. Geraldine had the posture, head tilt, finger movements – immaculate. Jim had the stubble beard, protruding lower jaw, the swagger and unique body twist. David’s supercilious, arrogant attitude and overbearing approach to all situations was remarkable. By naming these three actors, does not detract from the superb and at times amazing impersonations by Callon, as shy nervous Hugo – especially when Alice was around. Suzy was dazzling as the dumbest person in the crossbred village. James as the repulsive Owen, coupled with Sally’s remarkable enthusiasm for sandwich making. David as the world’s most boring bachelor and pedantic secretary completed the brilliant team.
This whole production was certainly the nearest any cast could get to the TV originals. An extremely funny show that extracted every piece of humour from the splendid script.