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


An explosive moment with Snowy, (Ryan Knight), Dick Barton (Matt Ludlam), Mrs Horrocks (Esther Roden) and Col Gardener (Al McCaughey). Pictures: Roy Palmer.

Dick Barton: The Tango of Terror

Hall Green Little Theatre


SOMETIMES it’s just nice to sit back in a theatre and escape from reality, or in this case, you can also add sanity.

This is a production worthy of an Arts Council grant for daftness as we follow the adventures of (cue Devil’s Galop theme tune) Dick Barton: Special Agent from London to Argentina and on to Brazil.

The original radio serial was hugely popular on the Light jock and dickProgramme (younger readers ask grandparents) from 1946 until the end of March 1951 when the BBC did what all the evil forces of the world had failed to do – it killed off dear old Dick and, worse, gave his 6.15pm slot to the new, and much less popular serial, The Archers. Its part in Dick’s demise was a stain Ambridge was never to live down.

Richard Scott as Jock driving Dick, Mat Ludlam, in the Barton Bentley

But heroes such as Dick can defy even death so when Roy Palmer, in his best Alvar Lidell voice as the BBC announcer, invites us to the next episode in the saga of silliness, The tango of terror, we can sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge we are in the capable hands, trench coat and trilby of Dick Barton, secret agent (Devil's Galop again)

The plot has more holes than a block of Aero but the holes are packed with laughs in what is a glorious musical romp. It might not be Shakespeare but old Bill would have laughed along with the rest.

Matt Ludlam, who graduated with a theatre related degree from Coventry five years ago, takes on the eponymous role of suave, sophisticated ex-Royal Marine Commando Captain Richard Barton MC – and, trust me, that is as sophisticated as it ever gets. He does a good job in holding things together and moving things along with an infectious enthusiasm.

Then there are his faithful sidekicks Snowy and Jock, roles taken on by performing arts students with Ryan Knight, as Snowy, having completed his first year at De Montfort university and Richard Scott as Jock having recently graduated in theatre studies from Derby, and both managed two very polished performances with accents, sarf London for Snowy and Scottish for Jock, which never faltered.

Al McCaughey is a fine, stiff upper-lipped Col Gardner of MI5, while Jack Heath as Rodger and Jon Richardson as Wilco, Britain’s finest secret agents ensure, we are safe when Dick is otherwise engaged.

That’s the goodies, so what about the baddies? Well there is Juan El Bigglesworth with his huge organ (sorry, couldn’t resist) played in a variety of accents by master of disguise Daniel Robert Beaton. His rise through the stage on his mighty Wurlitzer (2D very flat pack model) is a sight to behold.

And let is not forget Daphne Fritters, played with a mysterious air by Samantha Michaela Lawson, who appears at the most opportune moments. Let us just say she was a baddy in Dick Barton and The curse of the Pharaoh’s tomb – enough said.

Keeping it all clean, literally, is Esther Roden as Mrs Horrocks, who does for Mr Bconchitasarton at his office. It is a lovely performance with some splendid throw away asides, the sort that take a split second to take shape after being lobbed in your mind before exploding into laughs.

Jock, centre, finds himself in a fiancée fix in Buenos Aries with, clockwise from bottom left, Rachel Louise Pickard, Katherine Williams, Debbie Donnelly as Conchita, Charlotte Crowe and Sionainn Kavanagh while Jon Richardson as Wilco and Jack Heath as Rodger watch on.

Indeed the whole play is peppered with these surreal little quips, tagged on the end of sentences after a suitable pause, or thrown in in passing.

There is good support too from Rachael Louise Pickard as both a radio presenter and daughter of Conchita Horrocks, sister of Mrs Horrocks, who runs an English tea room in Argentina because she wants Englishmen as husbands for her girls – don’t ask.

Conchita is played by Debbie Donnelly who is seeing the light at last after being the back end of a reindeer in last year’s panto.

Other daughters, and female choir, are Charlotte Crowe as Maureen, Sioniainn Kavanagh as Margarita while Katherine Williams also pops up as an EFIL (Evil foreigners in London) stranger.

The wafer thin plot is set around a tune that could blow everyone up unless a tone deaf Snowy can remember it and that, combined with a level of silliness seen only in the last Dick Barton, or the likes of The 39 Steps, will only work if everything is done at a cracking pace, no one misses a cue and the cast, if not the storyline, are believable and director Louise Price, and cast, have done a super job in each respect.

Any hint of PC is thrown to the wind in Phil Wilmott's wonderful send-up, his third and final Dick Barton tale - worryeth not though, there are two more in this series and four in another series waiting in the wings.

In Dick's world women are special, objects to be loved and saved, but obviously inferior, as pointed out in no uncertain terms by Palmer's BBC announcer with his regular acerbic updates,  and in a more sophisticated way by Dick, Johnny foreigner is, well not English, and, by golly, it shows while the lower classes are all jolly good chaps . . . in their correct, and less elevated, station in life.

So now you know the natural order of things the set, from Roy Palmer, is flexible and simple, with clever lighting providing different scenes in different parts of the stage with no set changes necessary, helping to keep up the pace.

A mention too for Geddes Cureton, as reliable as ever upon the pianoforte to accompany the witty words to familiar tunes.

The end result is a splendid evening of great fun, full of laughs and, in true 1940's radio serial style, with a cliff-hanger of an ending. First class entertainment to finish the season with everyone in the audience leaving happy and sporting a beaming smile. To 30-07-16

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate