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.