Comic timing at its best in ‘Vicar of Dibley’

Photos by Francesca Evans
Photos by Francesca Evans
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AUDIENCES at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis have been taken back to the 1990s this week, with an hilarious stage adaptation of TV favourite ‘The Vicar of Dibley’.

Staged by the Marine Players and directed by Fred Humphrey, the laugh-out-loud show was based on selected scenes, primarily from the first two series, and brought back all the sitcom’s beloved characters.

The lead role of chocolate-loving vicar Geraldine Granger – famously played by Dawn French – was taken by Gemma Hatton, known locally for her comic performances with Lyme Regis Pantomime Society in recent years.

It must be a daunting task to play such a popular part but, complete with her black bob cut, Gemma perfectly delivered witty asides as her character dealt with the simple and small-minded residents of her new parish of Dibley.

In fact, the whole cast’s excellent comic timing had the audience in stitches throughout.

Gemma was ably backed by several stalwarts of the Marine Theatre stage, not least her father Brian Rattenbury as the dithering Jim Trott; David Ruffle as pedantic parish council minute-taker Frank Pickle; and the wonderful Anne King as church organist, flower arranger and terrible cook Letitia Cropley.

I always look forward to Anne’s performances and she never disappoints, always throwing herself into her role with aplomb. Even when forgetting to bring a prop on stage when I attended on opening night, she remained in character and dealt with the incident in such good humour that she won one of the biggest laughs of the night from the audience.

It was so funny, I was told that the director was considering writing the mishap into the script!

A performance to be proud of

Rounding off the small cast was Dave Ballinger as foul-mouthed farmer Owen Newitt; Jim Pettifer as uptight parish council chairman David Horton; Jack Ratcliff as his simple but loveable son Hugo Horton and, of course, special mention must go to Lorraine Knowles as Hugo’s ditsy love interest, church verger Alice Tinker.

It may have been 24 years since the first episode of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ was aired, but the show was recently brought back to our thoughts following the sudden death of actress Emma Chambers, who famously played Alice.

As a big fan, Lorraine was delighted to be cast in the role last year but, paying tribute to the late Chambers in the programme, she said she had been on a “rollercoaster of emotions” since her passing in February, adding that her excitement had changed to “utter determination to give it my all in her memory”.

And that she did. Lorraine must have watched the series 100 times as she had Alice Tinker’s endearing mannerisms down to a tee. Her delivery of the famous ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ revelation was hysterical and her blossoming love story with Hugo, culminating in their wedding, won the hearts of the audience.

I’m sure you did her proud, Lorraine.

The stage play was written by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter, adapted from the original TV series by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, with kind permission of Tiger Aspect Productions. All royalties donated to Comic Relief.

Formerly Lyme Regis Dramatic Society, the Marine Players were formed in 2016 to create a closer relationship with the Marine Theatre and attract a younger and more wide-ranging membership. In exchange for free use of the Marine, profits from productions go towards the upkeep of the theatre.

Last-minute tickets for tonight (Friday, March 23) and tomorrow’s final performance of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ may still be available – call 01297 442138 to book.

CAST: David Horton – Jim Pettifer; Frank Pickle – David Ruffle; Jim Trott – Brian Rattenbury; Hugo Horton – Jack Ratcliff; Owen Newitt – Dave Ballinger; Letitia Cropley – Anne King; Alice Tinker – Lorraine Knowles; Geraldine Granger – Gemma Hatton; Woman – Linda Crawford; Tinky Winky – Grace Knowles; Dipsy – Phoebe Hatton.

PRODUCTION CREW: Director – Fred Humphrey; Stage Management – John Gooden, Richard Stirk; Props – Beverley Rattenbury, Jane Tappin; Assistant Stage Manager – Linda Crawford; Set – Fred Humphrey, Jen Humphrey, Cherine Hill and members of the Marine Players; Wardrobe – Rose May and members of the cast; Lighting Design, Lighting & Sound Operation – Steve Miller; Sound Preparation – Tony Hill; Set Erection & Painting – cast and crew members of the Marine Players; Organ Arrangements – John Griswold; Artwork & Programme – John Gooden, David Ruffle; Front of House – Karol Kulik, members of the Marine Players and theatre volunteers.

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