The Vicar of Dibley was a very popular 1990s sitcom starring Dawn French as Geraldine Granger, one of the first female vicars. The first female vicars were ordained in 1994 and caused great controversy in the Church of England. Creator Richard Curtis (of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame) wanted to debunk the idea that women shouldn’t be ordained and this series did much to help their cause. Geraldine is a breath of fresh air and Dibley’s parish council of oddballs soon learn to love her. She even wins over pompous council chairman David Horton who initially is very negative towards her.
This version has been adapted from the TV series by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter and has all the familiar characters. Director Andy Hibbert has wisely decided to stay true to the original and the laughter was just as much from recalling the lines/scenes as it was from the fabulous execution on stage.
Each member of this ensemble cast was excellent in recreating their characters from the sitcom. They must have studied the programme closely to capture the voices and mannerisms so very well. It would be difficult to single out any one member, they all had their own highlights. John Atkinson did a great impression of Jim Trott and had the audience in stitches with his hilarious best man’s speech. Charles Ibberson as Frank Pickle was wonderful minuting himself as a ‘pedantic f***’ in a council meeting. Richard Bevan as Owen Newitt was a scream with his swearing tirade the moment Lent ended – and received groans of disgust as he returned a lost filling to the vicar! Sue Cox played Mrs Cropley to great comic effect as she announced what unexpected ingredient was in her latest recipe. Marc Vestey and Sophie Perez-Smith were super as hapless lovers Hugo and Alice with mannerisms and accents just spot on. They had the funniest (and longest) stage kiss you’re ever likely to see.
As David Horton and Geraldine, Rob Calnan and Joanne Ringrose were excellent. Ringrose channelled Dawn French perfectly as she displayed all the energy and exasperation the character needs. Calnan captured the haughty arrogance of his character perfectly without going over the top so that the audience can really believe his change of heart.
The scene with the three children (Maisie Baxter, Oliver Walker and Connor Hibbert) was charming. The youngsters delivered their lines very naturally and were very funny.
The set was very effective. Most of the action takes place either in the vicarage or the council meeting room, so both are on stage meaning scene changes can be done quickly and simply with lighting. A great idea which kept the pace of the show running well. The only scene this couldn’t cope with was the church wedding, so this was done as a wedding video and shown on a screen. That was a clever idea which gave a nod to the fact that this was initially a TV series. It didn’t feel at all out of place.
The only slight criticism would be that some of the cast continued with their dialogue over laughter and couldn’t be heard. Naturally in rehearsal this isn’t an issue as there is no audience, but this first-night audience was in stitches for most of the show and missed some of the dialogue because they were laughing so hard. A very minor point that is easy to correct for the rest of the run.
Overall this was hugely enjoyable – a divinely funny production which deserves to sell out.
The Vicar of Dibley continues at the Library Theatre with performances on Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm and a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets available to purchase on the door for all performances.