Hi-de-Hi! – 3 stars

People’s Theatre, Newcastle.

Stage adaptations of popular classic television comedies are ten a penny these days – understandably so in the current climate of aiming to get as many bums on seats as possible. This is the third such adaptation I’ve seen the People’s stage in recent years (the other two being Yes, Prime Minister and Dad’s Army) and I don’t blame them at all for including it in their season.

The experience starts as soon as you enter the foyer, where you are greeted by Yellowcoats, entertained by Mr Partridge and his Mr Punch puppet, and generally made to feel like you really have just arrived at Maplin’s Holiday Camp in Crimpton-on-Sea. A nice touch.

Then, in the auditorium, ‘Holiday Rock’ bursts through the speakers, the cast assemble on stage – and into the audience – we start with a bong-bing-bong on the xylophone followed by Gladys Pugh’s “Hallo Campaas” announcement, and we know we’re going to see the familiar characters in their familiar situations. Rye Mattick as Gladys has a few of these announcements, directed straight to the audience, and they are one of the highlights in the show. Expertly delivered, she doesn’t miss a beat or drop a single laugh with them.

On to the production itself. The pace in the first act is slow, and quite plodding. There is no urgency to it, which makes it feel a little bit laboured and flat, and sometimes loses the momentum of the audience’s laughter. It picks up in the second act, when the show turns into something more akin to an actual evening’s entertainment at a 1950’s holiday camp, complete with audience members being brought up to take part in joke competitions and dancing competitions, as well as routines from the comedians delivered directly to the audience. One huge gripe here though: if the production is playing it like we’re all in the holiday camp, then the reality of that has to be carried through. Every time a character addresses us, we should believe that we’re at Maplin’s. Surely it should be, “Hello campers, hi-de-hi!” and not, “Hello campers, all right?” The clue is in the title.

The staging and design, too, are quite underwhelming. The People’s Theatre has an impressive main stage, and for this production the decision seems to have been made to use only half of it, leaving the other half practically empty and in semi-darkness for much of the show. I’ve seen Hi-de-Hi! produced by other amateur companies on much smaller stages (and, I suspect, with smaller budgets) and those sets looked much more interesting and authentic.

The production is not helped by the script. Adapted by Paul Carpenter and Ian Gower from the original series, the story is disjointed and episodic. It’s quite sketchy, loosely held together with a couple of ‘plot lines’ – which of the Yellowcoats will get to work at the new camp opening in The Bahamas, and Ted Bovis being behind on payments to his ex-wife. In fact, Ted’s unpaid alimony is introduced right at the start, with his wife showing up with an order from the court to pay, resulting in a race against time to come up with the funds, and it feels like an inciting incident for an actual plot. Alas, other than the odd mention of it throughout, it never materialises. There are certainly no actual on-stage dramatic scenes that develop the situation further, and the resolution of Ted’s dilemma, when his wife shows up again at the end for payment, is woefully inadequate and hugely disappointing.

As I say, however, this is the fault of the script, not the actors, and there are some very nice individual performances in the show. Some of the actors are more skilled at others in imitating the original TV performances we remember so well (which, let’s be honest, is what we want to see when we go to see a TV sit-com on stage), but none of them are too far from the mark. Val Russell and Gordon Russell as Yvonne and Barry Stuart-Hargreaves, the stuck up ballroom dancers, are funny and very natural. Alison Carr gives an excellent Peggy Ollerenshaw, and Jack Thompson’s Ted Bovis is reminiscent of the original performance, though perhaps lacking a little of the confidence and showmanship of a true stage comic/singer.

But the stand-out performances are from the aforementioned Rye Mattick as Gladys Pugh and Sean Burnside as Jeffrey Fairbrother. They have got everything about their characters down to a T – the voice, the look, the mannerisms. If you closed your eyes and just listened to them, you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that you were actually hearing Ruth Madoc and Simon Cadell – and if you just half-closed them you might even think you’re actually watching them too! Faultless performances.

All in all this show is a fun one, and if you were a fan of the ‘80s original, it’s well worth going to see. Hi-de-Hi!

(originally posted 4 October 2017)

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