More than thirty years after it first aired on television 'Allo 'Allo! remains one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms. And in this production of the stage adaptation Centre Stage charmingly captures the farcical goings-on which made the show such a hit.
Set in the smallest of small town cafés in occupied France during World War II, the story follows hapless proprietor Rene Artois as he finds himself unwittingly caught up in the midst of a series of plots to steal the town's valuable artefacts.
The café is also being used as a safe house for two British airmen for whom the Resistance hatches increasingly ludicrous escape plans - which Rene is, of course, always at the centre of.
Richard Saunders leads the cast well as the loveable, long-suffering and unlikely heartthrob Rene, channelling Gordon Kaye's portrayal with great comedic effect. The chemistry between Saunders and Diane Bennett, as his tone deaf ball and chain Edith, makes for some of the show's best laughs. Edith longs for things to be 'like they used to be' between the couple, but Rene is somewhat distracted by the two rather fetching young waitresses he has employed at Café Rene.
Kate Edmunds, as one of the fawning waitresses, Yvette, lights up the stage with an uncanny resemblance to Vicki Michelle who played the role in the television series. She definitely wins the prize for the production's best French accent. Meanwhile Suzanne Britain invents a great character as the pocket rocket Mimi (the other fawning waitress).
Rene is hiding a valuable painting (The Fallen Madonna with the big boobies) for Colonel Kurt von Strohm (Bob Solomon) who plans to keep it for himself. But Hitler wants the painting back and sends limping Gestapo officer Herr Flick (Simon Edmunds) to get it back. But to complicate matters further Herr Flick is, of course, also conspiring to keep the painting for himself.
Solomon brings out the comedy in his role well, especially in a series of gags involving his rather terrible toupee (or 'viglet'). And Martin Pryce is excellent as his flamboyant Italian officer accomplice, Alberto Bertorelli, delivering some of the best gags of the evening.
Elsewhere Simon Edmunds steals the show with great comedy timing as the robotic Herr Flick, well accompanied by Julie Badder as his double agent Helga. And Keith Parry delivers a hilarious Lieutenant Gruber, another of Rene's unlikely admirers. Parry's physical acting is excellent and the audience was laughing before he even opened his mouth.
Carl Hemming is strong as one of the show's most iconic characters, the idiotic undercover agent Crabtree, who poses as a Gendarme and speaks in perhaps the oddest French accent ever heard. Hemming's delivery really made the most of the comedy which his character's musproninsiation creates.
Among a number of very able supporting performances Charlotte Pagett stands out as brooding resistance agent Michelle and Dennis Hoccom got some big laughs as the world's worst 'master of disguise' Leclerc.
On the whole the story moves along at a nice pace with only a couple of scenes feeling just a little laboured. Elsewhere a couple of somewhat questionable accents don't detract from the humour (if anything they add to it!) and the action comes to a close with a suitably farcical and funny ending.
It is impressive that director Dani Godwin and her cast pulled this show together in just two months. You certainly wouldn't know it and they should be extremely proud of what they have delivered here.
This is a charming slice of nostalgia that goes down every bit as easily as the bread and cheese served at the interval.
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