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Hillbillies lives up to expectations. Review by Paul Brooks

When you hear that a local theatre company is to stage a production based on a successful television comedy, albeit of 40-something years ago, there’s a moment when you remember, with fondness, the original stars and wonder if the locals can measure up. It’s entirely unfair, as the local production is an accumulation of enthusiastic amateurs, with a singular direction of putting on the best performance they can. So it was with Repertory’s The Beverley Hillbillies, now on stage at the theatre in Ridgway St.

Well, those of you old enough to remember the original TV show, have no fear. This production, directed by Glenn Cameron, measures up, right down to the live music—and that was a treat.The show begins with the sound of the banjo and guitar, provided by musicians Dave Pitt and Fraser Hill respectively, with the Beverley Hillbillies’ theme tune and a few other entertaining bluegrass instrumentals. They played out front to warm up the audience and get the toes tapping. As most of us probably know the original show’s premise, it won’t hurt to give some of the play’s plot away.

The first act opens on the Clampetts’ cabin in the mountains and we’re introduced to Jed Clampett (Chris McKenzie),Granny (Lynn Whiteside) and Ellie-May (Shaila Hawkins). The family is visited by two oilmen (Peter Dilloway and Ivan Siemonek) who buy the bottom swamp for millions of dollars, for the oil. The jokes fly thick and fast and the action moves along smoothly, heading in the direction we know it will — Beverley Hills.

Before they go, we meet Aunt Pearl (Heather Cotton) and Jethro (Matthew Hardcastle). Then, with some stage magic, the very realistic hillbilly cabin transforms into the polished, palatial set necessary for the money and class — maybe not the class — of the nouveau riche Clampett clan. The family trying to come to grips with modern (1960s) technology is hilarious and I just love the chimes that play from time to time, coincidentally, just as someone arrives at the front door. Needless to say, various wicked people try to separate the Clampetts from their money, while the Clampetts themselves are completely bemused by this strange, city society.

Glenn Cameron has done a great job of direction — as always! Casting people able to sustain the accents without compromising acting ability would have been tough, and there were standouts. Chris McKenzie IS Jed Clampett. The accent, the laconic drawl, the relaxed demeanour — this man has studied Buddy Ebsen and got it right! His delivery was perfect in every way. I’m looking forward to his next performance, whatever it may be. And Shaila Hawkins managed Ellie-May to a T. The hyped-up delivery, the body language, the accent—everything worked. And she was funny!

Matthew Hardcastle was well cast as Jethro and he used it all; the manic movements, the facial expressions and all the while keeping the accent unsullied. He would have loved camera closeups.

Lynn Whiteside, ever the consummate actress, did a fine job as Granny, and special mention must be made of Heather Cotton, who made the switch from Pearl to Miss Hathaway with ease, giving us two very different characters, with accents appropriate to each.

Others did extremely well so forgive me if space doesn’t allow amore thorough appraisal. Full marks for the set design and build! A functional work of art! Wardrobe delivered the perfect costumes and everyone back stage did a fine job. Lighting, sound effects . . . you all got it right . . . and it is so nice to be greeted at the door of the theatre. Repertory Theatre’s production of The Beverley Hillbillies is a goodnight out!