by Mike James.

Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Anthony Hopkins Theatre) Mold CH7 1YA To 8 November 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm
Audio-described 8 Nov 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 6 Nov.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS: 0845 330 3565.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 November.

Our finest hour reincarnated through its finest comedy.
In 1941 the BBC protected its morale-raising wartime radio comedy series ITMA by relocating recordings to Bangor, North Wales, while announcing it as coming from “somewhere in England”. And playwright Mike James enjoys sticking together typically anarchic arts types among the stolidly uninviting small-town brethren.

The pulpit rails against them, the pub regulars, stirred from near-somnolent apathy, insult them in Welsh. Mam and her household are glued to the wireless for star-turn Tommy Handley’s quick-fire comedy, but Mam’s a bit loopy anyway, isn’t she? What with knowing her husband’s dead but still seeing him around the farm?

And the rest of the household consists of two English landgirls, feisty Liverpudlian Molly and love-torn middle-class English rose Sarah.

There’s Dewi too, but he’s a kind of traitor, working sound-effects for the programme. More conventional treachery is suggested in tropes from wartime spy-films – a girl on a bike, a flashing light. It allows a gunpoint confrontation, fuelled by frustrated love. The piece, in fact, offers a rummage through the dressing-up box of dramatic clichés.

James never delves into the ITMA performers. Handley himself shows sainted sobriety and responsibility. And Arthur Askey is simply as ‘Big-Hearted’ as that moniker suggests. They’re expertly played by Philip Bretherton and Paul Barnhill.

What all this does is leave space for a wallow in nostalgia and wartime myth. And James too respects his characters. Dewi is no match for the metropolitan vamp in the BBC team, but his honest love wins through – as, of course, it must. Mam may still talk to her dead husband – she’s hardly the only bereaved wife to do so, and they can’t all have been mad. And she carries on working, being warmly rewarded when her hero, Askey, visits and dances with her. The stage goes spotlit and mirrorball-surrounded, but that is just how such a moment would remain in her memory.

The plentiful period songs are splendidly sung and played by actors with the musical and theatrical expertise guaranteed in a production by Peter Rowe, who knows this style as well as, and possibly better than, the back of his hand.

Arthur Askey: Paul Barnhill.
Dewi Price: Tom Blumberg.
Tommy Handley: Philip Bretherton.
Molly/Kay Cavendish: Shirley Darroch.
Dino Galvani/Gareth/Reverend Cefni Pugh: Richard Elfyn.
Mostyn: Phylip Harries.
Mam/Dorothy Summers/Elsie Chamberlain: Sara Harris-Davies.
Sarah: Catherine Lamb.
Sydney Keith/Twp/Frank Worsley: Kit Orton.
Idris Price/Jack Train: Alex Parry.
Horace Percival: Kraig Thornber.
Carol Morrison: Georgina White.

Director: Peter Rowe.
Designer: Judith Croft.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Matthew Williams.
Musical Director/Piano: Greg Palmer.
Choreographer: Sam Spencer-Lane.
Assistant director: Rupert Hands.

2014-11-02 11:48:23

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