Monday, September 26, 2011

Dishing up a laugh - review of Dinnerladies

Dinnerladies at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, from Thursday, June 9 to Saturday, June 11

ADAPTED from Victoria Wood’s much-loved late-90s sitcom, the Dinnerladies stage show saw the factory canteen and its employees transposed lock, stock and toaster into the theatre. With Wood and most of the main television cast members a little bit busy with other projects, it was mainly up to a cast as fresh as the canteen’s daily-delivered bread to bring the well-known characters back to life, and they did so with performances that verged on spot-on impressions.

The exception was Andrew Dunn, reprising his role as steadfast canteen manager Tony, whose presence in the production is a useful lynchpin as a link back to the source material. Also joining the cast for this tour was Sue Devaney, “Jane from the planning department” in the television series - who, after a brief appearance onstage in that character, drew gasps of surprise and delight when she reappeared as Petula, the geriatric mother from hell. It was an excellent performance considering she was paying tribute in it to the near-irreplacable Julie Walters; a task possibly even more challenging than that faced by Laura Sheppard, taking on Wood’s central role of Bren, the outwardly dappy but inwardly complex canteen worker.

Adapted from Wood’s television scripts rather than an original storyline, the story (at least in the second act) mainly followed events of the final series, with Bren attempting to win money on a quiz show to fulfil her and Tony’s dream in the face of imminent redundancy. It resulted in quite a bit of plot being crammed into two acts. but still retained the gentle pace of the on-screen version, partly because it could be safely assumed that most audience members would remember the series well, and therefore not need too much background information.

Its reliance on the source material meant that the show had Wood’s dry and often hilarious wit and focus on health, aging and bodily functions stamped all over it, although those who knew the series very well were likely to have found the jokes a little less lustrous for being well-remembered. However, as a revisiting of a sitcom thought of by many with much fondness, it was a heart-warming celebration presented and received with a great deal of goodwill.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, June 16, 2011

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