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

Drama in the Carry On shadows

What a carry on: Sid (Patrick Richmond-Ward, left) holding court in the splendid caravan set with Barbara (Emily Armstrong) and Kenneth (Ian Cornock)

Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle & Dick

Sutton Arts Theatre


THIS is a game of two halves, as the old football cliché goes, almost two very different plays on either side of the interval all set around four of the 29 original Carry On films made between 1958 and 1978.

Each of the four episodes is proceeded by the trailer for the original film with the curtain opening on the same set each time, a rather fabulous, cutaway caravan designed by stage director John Islip and built by John and his team using a real caravan chassis.

It is not often a set gets a round of applause but this one did and it deserved it.

The opening is Carry on Cleo from 1964 when the scene is set. South African born Sid James is a rising star afforded his own caravan on the set of the low budget film while the rest had to slum it.

We learn that Sid has two hobbies: gambling, where he was not very good, losing tens of thousands during his career, and women, where he was much faster and more single minded than any of the horses he backed.

Patrick Richmond-Ward is a passable Sid with his dirty laugh and permanent grin, wandering hands and ever ready to jump into bed . . . on to the couch . . . behind bike sheds . . . anywhere attitude.

He is matched by Ian Cornock as the acerbic Kenneth Williams, who was actually in more Carry On films than Sid, 26 to 19. Williams and James had had a feud since their days together in Hancock's Half Hour, and their love hate relationship continues. Cornock has the gestures, flouncing and peevishness of Williams although perhaps the odd hint of Brummie should be ironed out of our Kenneth's affected tones.

Williams' and James' relationship had perhaps more hate than love about it, a familiarity rather than a friendship. brought about through work rather than any rapport or bond. 

Williams was close to very few people throughout his life apart from his mother. He also had no romantic relationships, with male or female, to speak of either, claiming to be celibate.

Carry On Cleo with Sid and Kenneth who were not s much friends as actors who kept being thrown together

Into their lives came Barbara Windsor, in her second Carry On film, played beautifully by Emily Armstrong who even managed the famous scene from Carry on Camping when Babs' bikini top flies off to reveal both her breasts – and, much to the dismay of male members of the audience - she also revealed even quicker hands.

She is a bubbly personality throughout and you can see why Sid could fall for her. It is obvious from the start that Sid, who has a fairly full schedule in the bedroom department, would be more than willing to fit Barbara in, so to speak.

Watching it all unfold is Sid's new dresser Sally played by Aimee Hall who is making quite a name for herself in the amateur theatre with Grange Players and Aldridge Youth in her CV and good reviews in Oleanna at Highbury just three weeks ago.

Young enough to be his granddaughter she manages to hold off Sid's advances throughout Cleo and again in Camping. No mean feat as Sid goes through dressers as other people go through toilet paper.

Adding glamour and availability to Sid's lustful life is the tragic actress Imogen Hassall, the Countess of Cleavage, who was to take her own life with an overdose of barbiturates at the age of 38. She is played with a hint of vamp and more than a flash of thighs by Liz Webster.

The scene is set during Cleo and Camping which give us a bit of a rollicking romp, with a hint of farce and a few barbs thrown in but, rather like the Carry On films themselves, not much substance.

All that changes after the interval though when the trio are involved in Carry On Dick and Terry Johnson's play, based on well documented events, really starts in earnest. Babs has married East End gangster Ronnie Knight who sends round his minder Eddie, played with a sort of benign, none-too-bright menace by Dave Douglas. Eddie is ostensibly Babs' driver but his real job is to keep and eye on her and Sid and try to stop them getting too close.

True to form Sid manages to not only tap up Ronnie to borrow money but borrows his wife as well, as you might say.

Sid is desperate to spend his life with Babs and perhaps his greatest blow is when Ronnie is sent down for murder and instead of running to Sid, Babs sticks by her husband.

Richmond-Ward manages to make Sid, the Carry On character of the first half, into a person, a lonely, old man full of self pity and self loathing who has lost the only real love of his life.

All the characters are changing. Williams is becoming more depressed, more disillusioned at his failure as a serious actor, telling Babs that we all hate ourselves for not becoming what we wanted to be.

Sally reveals her secret to the audience, if not to Sid or anyone one else on stage, and finally we come to Carry On Emmanuelle in 1978, two years after Sid had died on stage of a heart attack during a performance of  The Mating Game at Sunderland Empire.

People remember Barbara Windsor as the good time girl with the twin attributes in Carry On films, and from The Queen Vic in EastEnders, but they forget, or never knew, she also had a career as a serious actress playing in Shakespeare and starring in Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane among other West End productions.

She appeared as Marie Lloyd in Sing a Rude Song and was nominated for a Tony for her performance on Broadway for Oh, What a Lovely War.

Barbara Windsor became more than just another challenge for Sid, she became an obsession

She declined Emmanuelle when she discovered that not only was she being asked to do a small part but it was a part which, once again, gave a starring role to her breasts. Ironically Carry On's good time girl had decided the series was becoming too smutty and suggestive.

Williams was fighting his own  battle about a scene he found a humiliating. He lost and had to do the scene in what was to be his final Carry On film.

He is perhaps the saddest character of them all, classically trained but never being recognised as anything but a gay comic figure. He bemoans hosting the TV series International Cabaret when he discovered they were using canned laughter. “Slogging my guts out for laughs that weren't even mine”.

The caravan set at the end is dirty, dishevelled and ready to be scrapped and Williams looks around and tells Babs “We are all dead already. We just haven't the good grace to lie down.”

He was to finally lie down ten years later from an overdose of barbiturates with an open verdict recorded - the inquest unsure whether his death was an accident or suicide.

The play reveals not only the often sad lives of three of the stars of the Carry On series but the back biting and feuding and the less than glamorous lives they had to live on set at Pinewood Studios with low pay and damp, dingy accommodation. Stardom with not much in the way of glitter.

The cast are not only believable as the characters they portray but by the time the Carry On bubble has finally burst they have turned them into people we actually care about.

Director Claire Armstrong Mills  made sure the stage never appeared cluttered in the confines of a caravan and kept up a good pace. Opening night saw a few assists from the prompt but hopefully that will be her last contribution to a play which grows from comedy to drama over the space of two and a half hours and 14 years. It is funny, revealing and at times sad. To 31-03-12.

Roger Clarke

Just a word of warning: there is some bad language in the production 

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