'Allo 'Allo, Harrogate Dramatic Society, Harrogate Theatre
A great comedy, sorely missed. That's the thought that strikes you as you watch Harrogate Dramatic Society's performance of 'Allo 'Allo.
This much-loved portrayal of a quaint caf in occupied France was a uniquely British dose of double dealing, double entendre and decidedly dodgy accents, and as the first amateur show of the theatre's new season, last week's four-day run had two boxes to tick.
Beyond simply keeping us entertained and laughing along – which we certainly were – it also had to be faithful to our nostalgic reminiscences of the series. Box ticked.
From cast to costume to set to frankly ludicrous plot, HDS brought the BBC's slapstick slice of the Second World War right back to life.
It is said that the best sitcoms are all about being trapped. Long-suffering caf owner Ren is stuck faster than most, caught between the rejected affections of his shrill wife Edith (played to perfection by Judy Methven) and the desires of his two waitresses, seductive Yvette and mini Mimi (Frances Sellars and Rhiannon Pattison adeptly recalling the original stars in all but height).
He's a reluctant player, too, in the self-serving efforts of three Axis officials – Derek Newton, if anything more entertaining than the screen version of Captain Bertorelli, Richard Naylor with an excellent turn as camp Lieutenant Gruber and Adrian Smith as Colonel Von Strom winning some of the night's earliest belly laughs thanks to the exploits of his toupee.
Ren's also on the radar of Herr Flick (the narcissistic Gestapo officer captured finely by Michael Garside, including a brilliant stiff-legged solo dance) and his stern but comely subordinate Helga (Gill McVey simply was Helga, no question).
And if that wasn't enough, poor Ren is also a reluctant conduit for the efforts of the French resistance. And it's this, perhaps, that best sums up the appeal of 'Allo 'Allo.
What we remember the most is the catchphrases and the naughty jokes, Michelle's "Leesten very carefully, I shall say zees only once" (Lesley Wheal hitting the character's conspiratorial delivery very well), the bumbling Leclerc's "Eet is I, Leclerc!" (Paul Dunstan's version of this admittedly one-note character always hilarious) and, best of all, the awful French accent of Crabtree (captured superbly by Dermot Hill, a clear audience favourite).
Yet our fondest recollections are of Ren himself. He's our sole representative in this two-dimensional world, the wisecracking glue that holds together an extended cast of caricatures.
And so special note should go to Chris Cowling's great performance as our hero, because it's upon his sardonic shoulders that the whole show rests.
Fitting that he won the biggest laugh of the evening, by hiding a big sausage under his apron. You don't get more 'Allo 'Allo than that.
There was much to commend behind the boards. Costumes (Sheila McIntosh, Sheila Patterson, Iris Mitchell, Fiona Campbell, Alan Graham, Catherine Noland, hair and wigs by Pam Smith and Richard Lill) were universally superb and a key part of the success.
Design (John Glyn Jones, Malcolm Wright) was very good too, and changes of scene made elegant and economical use of the caf set. Joanne Harrison’s choreography, too, did the cast justice.
Director Joan Percival makes clear in the programme that she was keen to take on the role, and it showed. Indeed, it seemed that everyone involved enjoyed themselves. 20 years on from the first appearance of ‘Allo ‘Allo and the concept has lost none of its magic.
Its stock in trade may have aged – wry glances, funny walks, inflatable Hitlers with swastika underpants and quips about sausages, choppers and pumps – but therein lies its charm.
HDS captured that wholesale, a credit to themselves and to our rose tinted memories.
l Other cast members: John Glyn Jones, Gavin Smith, Gordon Charlton, Gideon Fireman, Helen Emsley, Stuart Kellet. Backstage: Charlotte Clarke, Sue Rawson, Kate Antram, Helen Emsley, Marion Jones, Gordon Charlton, Andrew Sandiford, Brian Foster, Mike Bindon, Michael Garside, Andy Chollerton, HDS members, Harrogate Theatre).