Writing partners Jimmy Perry and David Croft will always be regarded as being masters of their art. Dad’s Army is still regularly shown on terrestrial TV and garners high viewing figures – it is still very funny. Hi-de-Hi! ran for eight years in the 1980s and made the careers of a number of the actors involved as well as creating many distinctive characters and the catchphrase from the title.
There has been a recent rush to put British sit-coms on stage, so you can now perform 'Allo 'Allo, Fawlty Towers, Are You being Served and the aforementioned Dad’s Army among others. This adaptation of the holiday camp comedy comes courtesy of the original writers with some tinkering by Paul Carpenter and Ian Gower.
Set in 1959 at Maplin’s where you can take part in Gurning Competitions or Baby with Biggest Head contests, the paper-thin plot concerns the financial difficulties of the camp's comic, Ted Bovis, and the voting for the favourite Yellow Coat who will win a trip to the Bahamas. The story is pretty incidental to the relationships between the characters. The staff at Maplin’s are something of a dysfunctional family who muddle through despite most of them disliking each other.
The Trowbridge Players, performing at The Arc Theatre, offer the audience a good set with the drab staff room and office of Jeffrey Fairbrother, the Head of Entertainments. These are supplemented by a bar, the announcement desk and a view of in interior of some hideous chalets! They are dressed with good props and decoration and offer a nice period feel.
The attention to detail in the costumes is excellent and couldn’t be faulted. If you have knowledge of the TV series you know exactly who is who! Putting your own interpretation on to such well-known characters is always going to be difficult, so keep to what’s on the page and what the audience expect and this is what the performers do.
As Jeffrey, Tim Knott, offers an often confused, but likeable character and his performance grows in strength when he gets ‘drunk’, which he does very well. Ruth Madoc made her name as the Welsh vamp with the simmering lust for Jeffrey and Becky Holden as Gladys hits the nail on the head with her performance; impeccable accent and enough naughtiness in her delivery to bring the smiles. Katie Tiley, as the put-upon Peggy, also does well in the wake of Sue Pollard’s starring role and she definitely gains the sympathy of the audience.
As Ted Bovis, Paul Grainger, sports an enormous Teddy Boy wig but his performance suffers from immobility in his arms. He appears to be grasping the hem of his jacket for dear life to begin with and from then on his arms seem as if they are glued to his sides. Likewise, Cameron Runyeard-Hunt as Spike needs to be bigger – make more of the silly costumes – show the audience! Bearing a remarkable likeness to the late, great Leslie Dwyer, Tony Giddings is excellent as the miserable Mr Partridge – always my favourite character in the show, and I was not disappointed in this performance. Topping the bill for me are Alan Rutland and Sandie Brookes as the ballroom dancing couple Barry and Yvonne – this partnership has the right level of camp and they bicker beautifully – a pair of excellent comic performances.
Good work also from Peter Tapp as Fred Quilley and Chloe Johnson as Sylvia, supported along the way by Angela Giddings, Chloe Law, Stella Greaves, Peter Grant, Mike Holden and Conner Runyeard-Hunt.
At ninety minutes, this is a very short play, and possibly should be even shorter – cue-bite is, at times, rather slow and the play could zip along at a pacier rate than it does. Comedy relies so much on timing and, this too, isn’t always on the button and so potential laughs are not made enough of and are rather wasted. It’s not a script aching at the seams with laughs and so, what is there, needs to be capitalised on. The funniest moments are always in Gladys’s announcements – comedy gold.
There is some good use of music throughout, but I would love to have more to cover some of the scene changes when the curtains aren’t drawn. There are awkward pauses while we watch people exit and music would really help. A few technical glitches here and there, but always good to see a ‘working’ telephone and live microphones employed.
Greeted at the entrance to the theatre by Yellow Coats, I also love the way that the pre-show announcements are made by Gladys at her desk. During the interval there was even an impromptu Knobbly Knees Competition in the bar. Likewise, there was a ‘panto’ element with the audience shouting ‘Ho-de-Ho’ every time they heard a ‘Hi-de-Hi’ and the audience voting was also fun, but could have done with a running commentary and some gags from Ted.
Directors Jo Ziegert and Chris Pollock have produced a fun show which maybe should have gathered a few more laughs, but is enormously helped by some strong performances, attention to detail and the overall audience experience.