DeeDee Doke reviews Hi-de-Hi

by Paul Carpenter and Ian Gower
performed by Waterbeach Theatre Company
directed by Julie Petrucci

Characters from long-running TV series become part of our own lives, sometimes even old friends of sorts. It's easy to understand how watching the equally lovable and exasperating idiosyncrasies and madcap activities of Maplin's Holiday Camp staff became a national habit back in the 1980s.

As the curtain fell on Waterbeach Theatre Company's production of Hi- De-Hi, the two-act stage play based on the TV comedy, I completely got the national sentiment: I was sorry to see this very silly but endearing and enduring group of characters make their final exit.

A character-driven comedy, Hi-De-Hi's plot threads are thin. Suffice it to say that the action takes place at the holiday camp, and the characters, all of whom have issues of some kind, do not experience any lasting resolution to their particular challenges or circumstances by show's end. Directed by Julie Petrucci, WTC's Hi-De-Hi got underway as soon as the audience entered the auditorium, greeted by enthusiastic 'Yellow Coat' girls from the show cast and presented with flower leis. The 'girls' offered their greetings in perfect character, setting the groundwork for the action ahead. Very fun!

Much of the action is driven by the Welsh-accented sports organiser and tannoy announcer Gladys Pugh, who not-so-secretly lusts after the entertainment manager Jeffrey Fairbrother. Peggy Ollerenshaw is the sweet-natured cleaner who aspires to become one of the (sort of) glamorous Yellow Coat activity leaders and entertainment, and Ted Bovis is the avuncular but debt-riddled and rather pathetic camp entertainer who tries to let his personal Elvis out through his hideous black quiff coiffeur. Other eccentrics in this band of misfits include the sniffy ballroom dancer Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves and Barry Stuart- Hargreaves, the toy boy Yvonne has transformed into her semirespectable dance partner.

As Gladys, Clare McDonald had arguably the trickiest role to navigate, by turns cloying, annoying, persistent, flirtatious and manipulative, all in a heavy Welsh accent, and what a delightful performance it was. Simon Colston was an effective foil for her as the nervous, indecisive entertainment manager, who may or may not have succumbed to Gladys's charms during an uncharacteristic drunken stupor. Chris Shinn was a suitably smarmy Ted Bovis, while Phil Law was hilarious as the dim toy boy with whipped cream hair, attached to snobby Yvonne Stuart- Hargreaves (Christine Easterfield in another of her mellifluously-voiced, graceful performances) who is never without her handbag.

Other bountifully comedic performances were delivered by Caroline Blair as battle-axe Hilary Bovis, James Dowson as a Met police officer on holiday and Vicki Hingley as the ever-optimistic Peggy. As Sylvia 'the legs' Garnsey, Emma Foltyne made the most of a role with limited dialogue, exuding attitude and a twinkly, all-knowing confidence. In other roles good support was given by James Windle (Spike), Martin George (Fred) and Punch and Judy Man, Michael Williamson.

WTC outdid its usual high standards in the costume and hair department with immaculately detailed Yellow Coats and fabulous wigs for all. Another great touch was adding songs in between scenes to give the Yellow Coats more stage time and to cover scenery changes.

Unusually for WTC, this set lacked 'punch points' - meaning, even when the location is intentionally dreary, there should be some stand-out feature or element. However, with such colourful performances being played in front of the set, the backdrops faded from consciousness.

This was a well-paced, well-played and creative production that left a lingering smile. Well done.

DeeDee Doke.
NODA East, Assistant Regional Representative District 4S

Chris Avery reviews Hi-de-Hi

by Paul Carpenter and Ian Gower
performed by Waterbeach Theatre Company
directed by Julie Petrucci

Adaptations from well-known TV comedies generally seem popular with audiences, and so it proved on this evening, the final performance in what had obviously been a very successful run. I always worry that actors will find it difficult to convincingly recreate the well-loved characters in the style of their TV predecessors, but certainly this wasn't the case with WTC's portrayal of Joe Maplin's happy, if creaking at the seams, sunshiny yellow holiday camp. The cast had obviously watched the recordings of the old shows assiduously, and Gladys, Jeffrey, Ted, Peggy and co were all most authentically played. The costumes were excellent, and Mark Easterfield's set designs (there were several) all contributed to the period feel of the show - especially the less than luxurious chalets and the mould on the walls of the staff room! My only criticism was of the glass coffee jug which was conveniently to hand when Jeffrey's need of a restorative coffee became overwhelming. While I doubt if the staff room would have run to a percolator, a china coffee jug would have been more suitable for the period.

As with many 80s sitcoms, much of the humour arose from the class divide which was still a feature of British society at the time. Jeffrey Fairbrother was never the right man to manage such a socially diverse crew as his Entertainments Team, and his stuttering embarrassment while trying to do so, as well as having to read out Joe Maplin's frequent, and grammatically incorrect, exhortations to his employees, was comically played to great effect by Simon Colston. Certainly he never stood a chance against Gladys Pugh (Clare McDonald whose characterisation was excellent. Gladys to the life) during his late night return to his chalet after his drinks had been spiked. What exactly took place remains a matter of conjecture, but the camp rumour mill was in full swing the following morning. Poor Jeffrey also had to deal with Hilary Bovis (Caroline Blair, proving that no role is ever a small one with a virtuoso performance as the redoubtable wife of the hapless Ted, played by Chris Shinn.) Chris obviously enjoyed the role of the apparently extrovert Lancashire comic, a rather sad clown when not in the limelight. I also thoroughly enjoyed Christine Easterfield as the upper class Yvonne Stuart- Hargreaves (Katie Boyle to the life!) and Phil Law as her husband Barry, who had been coached by his wife to hide his humble origins under an affected posh drawl. The remaining roles were competently played by an excellent supporting cast, several of whom were doubling up as stage crew during a busy show with many scene changes. During these the Yellowcoats, played by Emma Foltynie, Grace Harper, Jane Boden, Penny Clay and Marilyn Dew, treated us to three lively numbers - Joe Maplin would have been proud of them! But the star of the evening was undoubtedly Vicki Hingley as Peggy Ollerenshaw. Her well sustained characterisation of the indefatigable chambermaid was perfect - her accent, her walk and, surprisingly, an excellent singing voice as she acted out her dream of one day becoming a Yellowcoat. Congratulations, Vicki.

I did feel at times that a little more pace would have helped the comedy along, and unfortunately I did have some difficulty in hearing all the lines. More volume and projection would have helped my fuller understanding - but then I am the token hard of hearing lady in the back row. Nevertheless, it was a very entertaining evening on all fronts - and the Hawaiian Cocktail from the Ballroom Bar (1959 price 3s) definitely added to my enjoyment!

Chris Avery

Waterbeach Theatre Company
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