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

Saving the nation for a laugh

Secret agent or reincarnated queen? Samantha Holden as Marta . . . or is it Nefatartie . . . has the means to win the argument against Ara Sotoudeh (left) as Dick Barton and Tony O'Hagan as Jock.

Dick Barton

& The Curse of the Pharaoh's Tomb

Hall Green Little Theatre


TO the strains, high speed strains of the Devil's Gallop we are transported back to the BBC Light programme and 6.45pm (later 6.15) on a weekday just after the 1940s when ex-Royal Marine commando Captain Richard Barton, MC, was ready to save Blighty from the forces of evil.

In this case the evil is in the shapely form of Marta Heartburn, who is also the reincarnated most beautiful woman in the world, pharaoh's wife and part-time adultress, Nefatartie, all played with a swagger by Samantha Holden.

This is the second of  Phil Willmott's three Barton musicals premiered at the Warehouse Theatre in Croydon, London – there are another six by other writers also from the Warehouse – and it opens where the first ended, above the face of Big Ben with Barton and faithful sidekick Jock about to be shot by Marta – but will the curse of the pharaoh's tomb save them? (Cue Devil's Gallop).

Sunlight, jewels, dire warnings, public school dorms, all the ingredients or a ripping yarn.

Ara Sotoudeh is a convincing Barton, or as convincing as you can be in something so patently daft and is well supported by Tony O'Hagan, looking very fetching in a kilt, as Jock and with an accent that held steady all night. Jock is an expert in ancient Egyptian burial languages because the woodwork class was full.

And speaking of accents Ara  also doubles as King George with a posh lisp to help keep the characters apart.

Rather like The 39 Steps this is very British humour. We seem to have produced some of the finest drama in the world and some of the daftest – and, in case you are wondering this is not at the Shakespeare end – but it is great fun.

There are corny jokes, smutty jokes, double entendres – and to save time – single entendres and a plot so silly it probably qualifies for care in the community. Oh, and did I mention it was great fun.

On the side of the baddies we had Matt Ludlam as Piggy, who with old public school chums Barton and Swanker, played by Dean Taylor, had originally excavated the Pharaoh's tomb and let loose the terrible curse.

Mind you Ludlam was also on the side of the goodies, or not so bad in his case, as the cuckold Pharaoh Ahkan Rah who has a penchant for ballet and opera, or at least new words to well known tunes from  them.

Dick Barton is great fun for the audience and cast alike

Swanker did not get off lightly either with Taylor having to stand in as Vizier and  night club MC  in a tribute to multi-tasking.

Even Andrew Chaplain, who was that very nice chap on the wireless introducing it all had to down microphone and double up as Snowy, swathed in bandages because he was suffering from a skin complaint.

Bandages were in vogue with Sami Moghraby as Wilco and a Brit abroad as well as a killer mummy. The rest of the strong cast were made up by Gemma Underwood as barmaid Muriel, Jospehine Paul as housekeeper Mrs Horrocks, Oscar Davies as Rodger, Ross Shaw as the other Brit abroad and Matthew Burkett as the other killer mummy.

One mummy would have a higher voice in death than if life, if he could speak that is, as it is the living corpse of Nefatartie's lover, who like Reginald Dixon, had a famed organ but who had been entombed in one box while his Sporran Spanner, as Jock euphemistically would have it, was entombed in another. If it was an early prototype of the cricketer's box then it was one that has still to catch on.

Full marks too must go to Geddes Cureton who relived the days of the silent movies sitting at his piano in the orchestra pit(ette) accompanying songs, adding mood and incidental music and generally jollying things along with some quality playing.

There were plenty of visual gags, from Elgin's marbles – what a game that must have been – to the iconic arms outstretched love song on the prow of the doomed Titanic and a lot of one liners – a couple of which needed fast – or dirty or both - minds to appreciate in the time allowed.

For the problem with daft is it needs to be fast. Give an audience time to think and analyse what is going on and they might start to realise that it is  . . . well daft,  but director Louise Price avoided that by keeping up a cracking pace with the 20 characters and 13 cast who, despite racing along, never lose a good sense of timing, an essential  for comedy.

It is fast, furious and remarkably silly but above all it is fun. So leave your troubles behind, sit back and enjoy. to 23-03-13

Roger Clarke


Incidentally Edward J Mason, the co-writer with Geoffrey Webb of the original BBC Dick Barton radio serial was born in Birmingham and along with Webb also created the replacement serial for Barton, The Archers. 

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