Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

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Owen, Geraldine, Hugo, David, Jim, Frank, and Letitia  - the Dibley Parish Council. Pictures: Roy Palmer.

A Vicar of Dibley Christmas

Gall Green Little Theatre


As a reviewer you see a lot of productions, some you dread – we all have our theatrical bêtes noires – some surprise you, for better or, for worse, and some you look forward too with a degree of anticipation.

This is one of the latter, and, it did not disappoint. The previous incarnation of The Vicar of Dibley was a comedy delight and this second coming is singing off the same hymn sheet with the same cast in the same roles.

It is the same characters we grew up with on TV, but Hall Green manage to avoid a night of theatrical karaoke by making the characters their own. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, we all recognise Jim Trott, but it is Paul Holtom playing him, not Paul Holtom playing Trevor Peacock playing Jim.

Rachael Louise Pickard is just brilliant as the sweet, intellectually challenged – i.e. dim verging on power failure - Alice Horton (née Tinker) and although we can remember the late, lovely Emma Chambers in the part, it is only a fine performance from Rachael that we see.

It is all helped by the script. Like last time’s The Vicar of Dibley it has been written by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter who have written a stage play based on the original scripts by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer.


Ros Davies as Geraldine, the Vicar of Dibley

Last time it was pretty well all the TV episodes, from Geraldine’s arrival to Hugo and Alice’s wedding condensed into one play. This time a couple of episodes are raided with Dibley Live from January 1998, when the village had community radio for a week, and the Winter Christmas special from Christmas Day in 1999, when a heavily pregnant Alice plays Mary in the village nativity play.

We open as Alice and Hugo return from their honeymoon and Alice is not yet heavy but is certainly with child – a consequence perhaps of playing “hide the purple parsnip”.

The script is perhaps not as coherent as the previous production as there is no real link between Acts 1 and 2, with Alice’s pregnancy and father-in-law David’s open dislike of her, much more brutal than on TV, a clever device to create a plotline spanning the acts.

The acts do have the great merit of having been rewritten and adapted for the stage though rather than leaving the actors struggling manfully to adapt a script written for a totally different medium, TV, as happens all too often with sitcoms.

So, it sits easily on stage helped by the same clever design from Julia Roden with the stage divided into two sets, Geraldine’s sitting room on the left and the parish council meeting room on the right which means that although the action switches regularly between the two the scene changes are immediate and seamless, underscored by Paul Hartop’s lighting design.

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Alice, played by Rachael Louise Pickard, as the heavy with child Mary

Ros Davies looks and sounds like Dawn French and brings a cheery freshness to Geraldine, who has her own cross to bear in the shape of Alice – who denies she is pregnant because the hamster didn’t turn blue . . . don’t ask, just accept it involves a very wet hamster and, one suspects, a Tinker family tree with myriad branches and a legend of purple parsnips.

And then there is Hugo, a perfect intellectual match for Alice, played with an air of vacuous innocence by Matt Ludlam. Hugo's scene with Alice as Mary explains the immaculate conception to Joseph in Geraldine's method acting class while rehearsing the nativity is a comic gem.

Meanwhile putting a damper on things is Hugo's father, David Horton, who has an air of permanent despair in the hands of Jon Richardson, a despair from chairing a parish council who would still come second if they were the only team in a pub quiz, and having a daughter-in-law he sees as a rival to a pebble in the brain stakes.

There is Jim of course, a no, no, no, no, yes fine performance from Holton, Jim has a penchant for the Playboy channel, has a moment of fantasy about Brooke Shields directing the nativity play, and a confused recollection of important dates in Dibley history, which are all challenged by Owen, the down to earth, spade’s a spade son of the soil, with a, should we say, eccentric, juggling act and an unhealthy interest in farm animals – although his bowels seemed less troublesome this time around. A lovely performance from James Weetman.

Richard Woodward is superb as the very precise, very particular and  . . . sorry, dropping off for a minute there, and very boring Frank, who notes down every word, cough and snort in the minutes, is a rival to Mogadon, yet has the most revealing and sensational of all the programmes on Radio Dibley – if anyone had battled against Frank’s inbuilt tedium and bothered to listen.

Then there is Lin Neale, knitting quietly in the corner, in a nicely balanced performance as Mrs Cropley – she of the recipes that make Heston Blumenthal’s look like a school dinners. While most mothers to be are offered an epidural, Alice is offered fig and boiled egg sandwiches.

Then there is Kathryn Fisher who pops up as a vet, rather quickly one hopes, just in case there is a real doctor in the audience.

It might not be the real Vicar of Dibley, but it’s the next best thing, well-acted, well-characterised and well-funny as they might say in the Dibley hood. Well-directed by Jean Wilde it is Laugh out loud funny. If you enjoyed the first Dibley appearance you will enjoy this just as much, if you missed it first time around . . . it’s on to 22 September.

Roger Clarke


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