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July 2006
Are You Being Served?
reviewed by Jon Mareno in
The Isle of Wight County Press

(reproduced by kind permission of the Isle of Wight County Press)

Only die-hard fans of TV sitcom Are You Being Served? were keen to be dished up with Cowes Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s stage version of the spin-off movie.

It was hardly surprising Cowes’s Trinity Theatre hosted an audience numbering only 20 (which included staff) for the opening show of its run. To stage such an appalling spin-off of a modestly amusing television sit-com is either almost Victoria Cross-brave or sheer madness.

The two-hour story, in two acts, takes the staff of the anachronistic Grace Brothers Department Store on a holiday to Spain’s Costa Plonka while it is closed for renovations.

The play ambles through a long string of forced, predictable and terribly unoriginal jokes, painfully unfunny double entendres and a poor reflection of the show’s Stone Age gay stereotypes, with Bob French doing his utmost to add spark as John Inman’s extremely camp Mr Humphries.

Of course, you have all the usual lustiness from the TV series, with Mrs Slocombe (Maggi Pearman Taylor) out to have her wicked way with supervisor Captain Peacock (John Wiles), while Mr Lucas (Dan Cawtheray) tries to woo bra and knicker seller Miss Brahms (Tracy Tetlow) out of her undergarments.

Tracy, making her CAODS debut, played her part admirably, was certainly more pleasing to the eye than Wendy Richards in her prime and was one of the few bright sparks among some of the dullest character portrayals I’ve ever seen.

Half the play was set in the department store, during which nothing much happens, save Mr Humphries’s hunt for his tailoring chalk dropped down a woman’s knickers and a song-and-dance routine in lederhosen to gain cheap laughs at the expense of the Germans.
Proceedings do come to life when the party arrives in Spain. Every joke about Spanish hotels is recycled here. The rooms booked are unavailable, so they have to sleep in tents; the only toilet is a wooden outhouse without a lock; and the food is “greasy, foreign muck” — rejected in favour of a traditional British-style fry-up. Any prospect of suspending disbelief was rendered impossible when the staff’s stay coincided with the outbreak of a civil war, with Costa Plonka at its epicentre.

The Spanish accents sounded more like the Corleones in The Godfather and the hastily edited sound effects were very funny — particularly when German music came from one speaker and the musician was pretending to play the accordion at the stage’s opposite end.

It was a brave effort by director and producer Daphne Brown but she was effectively on a hiding to nothing staging it. CAODS has plenty of talent at its disposal and to try to emulate the type of characters that carry the show’s paper-thin plot and match the delivery of the original actors’ constant stream of awful one-liners, was virtually impossible for the cast.

Jon Mareno


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