What is it that makes a popular TV sitcom? And can it be translated into a successful stage play? Well I suppose it can but it is a tricky feat to pull off. In the case of The Vicar Of Dibley, I’m sure most people would say that its success was almost entirely due to the fantastic cast of characters created by and around Dawn French’s charming lady vicar Geraldine. And therein lays the rub. Comparison to the original is never far from your mind, particularly when the stage adaptation is comprised of snapshots from the series. Admittedly some of the best moments, but all so well known it’s practically impossible to take the audience by surprise.
Director John O’Leary served up some innovative moments, particularly with the use of Luton Youth Chorale providing live music to welcome the audience and cover scene changes. A clever way to set the atmosphere. Likewise, pianist and choir mistress Julia Mcleish, leading the audience in a hymn preceding Geraldine’s first sermon, set the scene beautifully and established us as the congregation. But overall some of the pacing was a little slow and punch lines so predictable that comedy was often lost.
On the whole the cast was a strong one, led by Dee Lovelock making a likeable and straightforward ‘Geraldine’, her timing was good and she made the part her own. And Matt Flitton was superb as the dopey ‘Hugo Horton’, absorbing all the mannerisms expected of the character but maintaining an inner truth. I found Alistair Brown’s ‘David Horton’ rather deliberate but his constant exasperation was never in any doubt, and Gary Nash produced an almost exact replica of the TV ‘Jim Trott’ to the delight of many. So precise in fact that it rather highlighted that others were not. Sadly the character that really didn’t work was ‘Alice’, the dippy, off-the wall verger. Jennifer McDonald tried valiantly to create her own version of this iconic sidekick, but in a team of lookalikes she was the one that was physically least like the original and suffered most in comparison.
I’m sure the company were pleased with their production and it was certainly successful at attracting a decent sized audience, no mean feat these days when theatre is considered a luxury and plays so rarely performed in Luton. It’s just a shame that such a weak script, by an un-credited author, is served up as a vehicle for supporting ‘Comic Relief’. But then TV sitcom adaptations are surprisingly popular if generally disappointing. Frances Hall