BWW Review: DAD'S ARMY at Off Broadway Theatre Papakura, Auckland Auckland
Reviewed by Glenda Pearce
Papakura Theatre Company productions always delight. The opening night of "Dad's Army', is certainly no exception with a tight, quick and superbly slick slapstick performance.
This is a very funny show with cleverly shaped one-liners, subtle witticisms and well- delivered comedy.
One of the strengths of this company is teamwork. PTC is a strong theatrical community who combine their talents to present imaginative, innovative and entertaining productions. This is an outstanding team effort: a large cast of 27 characters, 17 band members and a production team of 40. Directed with expertise, and outstanding attention to detail, by Mary Gray, this is a laughter-filled, joyous three-episode version of the much-loved BBC television 1970s sitcom, which was broadcast for a total of 80 episodes.
The warmth and tone of the production is well established by the pre-show singalong around the piano. The audience feels as if they, too, are attending the choir practice at the church as they join in the well-known war tunes: "Keep the Home Fires Burning," "It's a Long way to Tipperary", "There'll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover" et al. We are being drawn into the world of the play. We are already there - already a part of the well-designed and detailed set of office, church hall, and coffee shop (Mary Gray and Allan Wyatt), and already a part of the community.
Warmington-on-Sea would have been a small community - and in the war years the play was set, the community would have been young children and pre-war aged teens, mothers, daughters, girlfriends and older men past service age. Mary Gray had researched this aspect and employed this detail effectively. Her Warmington-on-Sea brass band ( led by proficient musical director Paul G. Radden) adroitly plays the well-known theme tunes ("Who do you think you're kidding, Mr. Hitler?") throughout the play, and the scene changes ("Whistle while you work"). It isn't until their appearance in the final scenes that the audience is aware of the authentic truthfulness of the band - brass players as young as 8 as well as the more mature men, and a few girls as well. The drum major Callum Thomson has the audience cheering loudly in the final music-filled minutes of the play, with his expert display of drum major mace spinning. Many of the band show just how cleverly multi-skilled they are - with many of them playing roles onstage as well as being in the band.
Older members of the audience are probably familiar with the characters from the community. Again, it is as if we know them, and are already part of their story. So, we go along knowing who and what to expect. But the younger members of the audience relate just as easily to the various eccentric characters who make up the Home Guard, and who make up this community. This is a superb cast, with every single one of the well-positioned 27 onstage consistent in quality - with motivational credibility, truthful action, well-shaped dialogue, and vivid facial expression that capture the underlying humour of their roles. The characterisations are all clear cut and voices are effectively contrasted throughout. The strength of a successful production always lies in this - every part combining effectively to create the spectacular whole.Self-appointed Captain Mainwaring, the pompous bank manager, is created with true authenticity by Bradley Pope in his first major role, and it is testament to his outstanding commitment that he shaved his head to become Mainwaring's double. The one-liners are well-timed and skilfully articulated to get their laughs: "I've never heard so much drivel in my life." Other outstanding portrayals are seen in Murray Tomlin as the keen but bumbling Lance Corporal Jones, the barmy butcher with a penchant for finding harebrained solutions - and his famous "Don't panic! Don't panic!" moments, such as when he has a live grenade down his trousers! Equally impressive is Adrian Chapman as the pessimistic Scottish Private James Frazer; and Jaynesh Patel as Private Joe Walker, the ladies man and "I can get that for you - supplier".
Many humorous highlights come from the excellent stagecraft, facial expression, physicality in the characterisation of Angus Cameron as the mummy's boy, Frank Pike. The audience could not help but appreciate the various humorous predicaments the young naïve lad finds himself in, such as when he's perched like an uncomfortable bird on a wooden ladder guarding the U Boat Captain (Bruce Wilson) and his crew. Reg Michaels undeniably captures Sergeant Arthur Wilson with suitable suavity and laid back charm. He even has the well-remembered smile of the famous John Le Mesurier who played this role for the entire series.
This is a professionally delivered and superbly directed production that will delight any audience. You leave with your laugh well exercised and your joy well topped-up!
Papakura Theatre Company
41 Elliot Street