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Midweek Review: Are You Being Served?

Are You Being Served? By Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft. Performed at Wanganui Repertory Theatre. Directed by Glenn Cameron. Reviewed by Paul Brooks.

Believe it or not, Are You being Served?, the BBC TV series, ran from 1972 right through until 1985, but its humour was rooted (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) firmly in the early ‘70s. Innuendo, double ententre, smutty slapstick, stereotyped gay man and Mrs Slocombe’s pussy and all, it developed a huge following and is remembered today with some fondness but with the odd tiny cringe. The catch cry of “I’m Free!” can still be heard occasionally, falsetto and all.

For some of us, that era is yesterday, and we remember the characters as vividly as we recall the faces and gestures of our own family members. So how would we feel about other people taking their places and impersonating them live on stage at Repertory? On Saturday, I found out. The play’s second outing played to a near full house and it got a lot of laughs. With an audience ranging in age from 13 (ish) to much older (he said, diplomatically), I wondered how the jokes would fare, but they did rather well.

For the uninitiated, the play, as was the sitcom, is set in the clothing department of Grace Brothers’ Department Store in London. The cast consists of the store owner, employees and customers and – in this play – the owner and staff of the Don Bernardo Hotel in Spain. The play begins at opening time at the store and moves, in the second act, to the Spanish hotel where the store employees go on a holiday subsidised by Grace Brothers.

Overall, I had a good time, and so did the rest of the audience. There were plenty of jokes that fell on fertile soil, but – and I put this down to their age – some that fell into stoney (or embarrassed) silence. The cast, mostly, did their characters justice and there were some standouts.

The young lad who took on the John Inman role of Mr Humphries was brilliant! Ivan Siemonek made the role and the stage his own. His relaxed manner, control of the situation and superb comic timing, earned him some fans, I would say. Graham Dack, who played Captain Stephen Peacock, has that same natural poise and slick timing. He, too, looked very comfortable on stage. Ian Jones as Mr Mash, shop steward and maintenance man, made full use of his facial expressions and cocky manner to get a few laughs and Dylan Peterson who played Mr Lucas, was the epitome of the cheeky cockney lad. He has style, that fellow.

The play boasted a cast of seasoned actors who rarely put a foot wrong, so the odd line fumble (and a name forgotten) were easily taken care of by the veterans and soon forgotten by the audience. Good to see Phil Hudson on stage again, but, one has to ask, was the terrible, half-bald wig really necessary? Karen Ellett and Peter Dilloway were great as Spaniards and Gareth Lewis as a Spanish revolutionary was most convincing. There were some things that needed explanation, perhaps in the programme, particularly references to the Common Market and various topical subject of the time.

Glenn Cameron worked this play well, with every cast member moving smoothly about the stage and keeping in character throughout. The set, as usual, is a work of art, thanks to John McGowan and Glenn Cameron, and wardrobe (Kerry Mountstephen) had everyone wearing suitable period attire. Ivan Siemonek’s suit was a wonder to behold!

To put the period in perspective, most of the original BBS sitcom cast and one of the writers have since died. Even Wendy Richard, the lass who played Miss Shirley Brahms (the hot one in ladies’ wear) died three years ago; in fact, only Frank Thornton (Capt Peacock), Nicholas Smith (Mr Rumbold) and Vivienne Johnson (young Mr Grace’s nurse) are all that survive from the main cast members and Jeremy Lloyd is the only remnant of the writing team, his partner, David Croft having died last year.

Lloyd and Croft were a brilliant team, being responsible for Dad’s Army, ‘Allo ‘Allo and Grace and Favour, among others. Their script for this play has lasted well and any broadminded audience is guaranteed plenty of laughs and a good night out. Are You Being Served? continues this week with the final performance this Saturday night at 7.30pm. Treat yourself.

Wanganui Midweek March 28th 2012