I have a sneaky little confession to make. I hated ‘Allo ‘Allo when it was shown on television. I’m not sure why we ended up watching it almost every week, but I just didn’t understand why people saying the same things over and over again was so humorous. So when I heard that the Cardiff Open Air Festival Everyman was including it in its line up this year, I was a little dubious about whether I’d enjoy it or not.
Clearly, some things get better with age, because I absolutely loved it! Perhaps it was nostalgia at play or maybe I just understood the jokes better – and it has to be said that it was a lot racier than I remember – but there was something wonderfully entertaining about hearing those classic lines again. When Rene (Paul Williams) uttered those immortal words “You stupid woman!”, the entire audience joined in, a very special moment of camaraderie.
If, unlike me, you’re not old enough to remember the series, ‘Allo ‘Allo, told the story of Rene Artois and his café. Over the course of 9 series, Rene’s life becomes increasingly convoluted, as his café becomes the hiding place for two British airmen, as well as a stolen painting called The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies and a forgery of said painting. Meanwhile, Rene is also having an affair with his two waitresses, one of whom is a member of the Resistance sent to protect him from the German, while his wife bemoans the fact that he is no longer interested in her and channels all her pent up frustration into cabaret performances of dubious quality. On top of that, he has to deal with various factions within the Germans and pressure from the British resistance. As Rene so aptly put it at the beginning of the show, whatever he does, someone’s going to shoot him!
Although it’s all terribly complicated, the TV show always summed up previous events, which worked really well on stage, so even if you weren’t familiar with the story, you’d quickly pick up what’s going on. However, I do wonder whether this is the right kind of show for a younger audience. I cracked up when Peter Harding-Roberts sidled onto stage, lifted up his glasses and said “It is I, Leclerc!” not everyone found it so funny and I guess if you didn’t already know that this was a character with a history of disguises, all looking the same and all equally abysmal, there wouldn’t be any reason to laugh. A lot of the humour does rely on familiarity with the characters and catchphrases and I don’t know if that can be successfully encapsulated in a couple of hours.
Having said that, I had an absolute blast. It’s always tricky dealing with such an iconic show and the cast didn’t just look like their original counterparts; they did just as great a job of bringing their characters to life. My personal favourite was David O’Rourke as Herr Flick, but then I always did love the uptight Gestapo officer who managed to be terrifying yet hilarious at the same time. His Tango solo was a particular highlight for me.
If you were a fan of the TV series, then you’ll love this production. It’s rollicking fun, from start to finish!
With thanks to the festival for providing me with a complimentary ticket in exchange for an honest review.
When my middle daughter heard that I’d been invited to review “Into the Woods” as part of the Everyman Cardiff Open Air Theatre festival, she was very excited, telling me that she’d seen it on YouTube and thought it was amazing. Not being familiar with the musical, I was very excited to hear this, but now I strongly suspect that she is the target audience and I’m not, because I’m afraid I didn’t share her opinion.
When the show started, the one word that sprang to mind was “perky” and it was. Terribly, terribly perky, in that “let’s do the show right here!” kind of way. I love musicals but this was a bit much, even for me. However, it settled down a little after that and I started to get a feel for the strengths of the performance – and there were a lot of them.
The songs are clearly technically very difficult to sing, yet there wasn’t a single cast member who didn’t make it seem effortless. The standout vocally for me was Rapunzel (Giaccolina Crothers), who also had an impeccable sense of comic timing. Her tears over the blinded prince had the audience crying with laughter.
But the characters who really carried the show were the villains, as is so often the way. They were the most interesting, the most entertaining and the most amusing, especially my personal favourite, the Witch, played by Jo Herco-Thomas. Having just come from a week running workshops based around Grimm’s Fairy Tales, it was fascinating seeing how true to the original, somewhat gory, stories the show was, although I’m not convinced that all aspects were meant to be as hilarious as the audience found them.
There were moments when lines were delivered ironically, which I think is really the only way to handle them for a modern audience, and there were some lovely touches, such as Red Riding Hood (Darcy Welch)’s wonderfully indignant skipping. When Rapunzel’s hair got caught on the set, the Baker’s Wife (Laura Phillips)’s improvised call of “I’ll get that for you, love!” had us all in stitches. Yet for all that, the show fell flat for me because there was only so much you could do with the source material.
And therein lay the problem. The first half was effectively a complete story, with the second half feeling like it was tagged on just for the delight of killing off half the cast in multiple tragedies of Shakespearean proportions. Thematically, it delved further into the concept of being careful what you wish for, a perennial theme in fairy tales, but there simply wasn’t any need to drag things out as long as they were. What’s more, the evil characters had been the most interesting, but having either killed or disempowered them all in the first half, the second half suffered for a lack of them and the giant didn’t really have the personality to fill the gap.
So overall, I’d say that if you’re a fan of Stephen Sondheim, go and see the show. You’ll love it. The execution and staging is flawless and it’s a fantastic ensemble cast with everyone perfect for their role. If you’re like me and “Into the Woods” isn’t your kind of thing, then I’d suggest booking tickets for one of the other shows in the festival, because if the quality’s anything like this one, they’ll be well worth a watch.
With thanks to the Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival for the complimentary ticket in exchange for an honest review.