Tuesday, 26 November 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick - The Garrick Playhouse, Altrincham.



I have to confess that I had no idea what I was going to watch with this production. I remember my mum was a huge ‘Carry On’ film fan but I already felt they were dated in the mid-1980s! So how does a company reproduce a ‘Carry On’ as a play, which is relevant to an audience in 2019?... Thankfully, they did not attempt to. This original script, written by Terry Johnson in 1998 was a huge hit at the National Theatre and spans 14 years of the love affairs, successes and tragedies in the lives of some of our best known ‘Carry On’ film actors: Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor. The play is a comedy and is set against the back drop (quite literally) of filming locations used during the ‘Carry On’ films. The locations are less than glamourous, in muddy fields and pub car parks and most interior scenes are set inside Sid’s leaking caravan, which serves as his green room.

Once again, the design concept of this play gave the whole production a slick and professional feel. From the brilliantly shabby-chic leaking caravan to the simple moving flats, the set was sophisticated yet uncomplicated. The costume design helped to give a sense of the ‘Carry On’ era from the ridiculous Roman soldier costumes to the spangled bras, displaying just enough cleavage to remind us of the frivolously raunchy ‘Carry On’ genre.

The reality of this was that the saucy nature of the performers on screen, was mirrored in the actors’ lives off screen and certainly between filming takes with many love affairs and fumbling moments between the sheets of Sid’s leaking caravan. . .if the script is true to reality!? But sadly, this is where I felt the production really faltered. In a post-Weinstein, post-Operation Yewtree society, there were moments where I felt extremely uncomfortable with the lecherous ways of Sid James and the young girls in his backstage caravan. I’m not suggesting they be edited out, I’m just not sure how ‘entertaining’ these moments were and might even call this entire play premature to be produced in 2019. . .remember, when it was written, there was no Yewtree or Weinstein in the media!

But credit, where credit is due, the three main actors in the cast were wonderful to say the least. Portraying such well known and loved real life actors was always going to be a tough task, but each of the performers were brilliant at portraying every well-known nuance and tick of these lively performers. Sid James, played by Mark Butt, was energetic and passionate yet full of the pathos for the unrequited love he felt for Barbara. Steven Finney’s portrayal of Kenneth Williams was absolutely spot-on in his characterisation: from the naughty cackle to the brilliantly comedic, wide-eyed facial expressions, I just loved this performance. Finally, Barbara Windsor, played by Dawn Flint was warm yet entertaining and full of the naughty charm she is known for in reality . . . just perfect casting. The main performers were supported by a sterling cast and one of which stood out for me was a beautiful portrayal of Sally, the costume girl by, Lottie Warburton. Well done all!

At four acts long, the performance did seem lengthy and I wondered if whether the farcical pace might have been lifted at points to up the energy in the first half, to make way for the slower pace in the tragic second half. One punter was overheard leaving the theatre at the end saying, “Well, it was a bit morbid!” This ‘Carry On’ didn’t try to emulate the on screen farce (although there were moments of that), but merely told the story of the actors and the lives they led and relationships they forged, whilst filming, thus creating a very touching piece of theatre which educates us that not all is what it seems.

Once again the Garrick have staged a semi-professional production of the highest standard for a fraction of the cost and in a local theatre with great facilities. The productions are always brilliantly supported by local sponsorship and perform to sell-out audiences and it’s clear to see from this one, why!

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 25/11/19

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