Ooook!, the company behind The Vicar of Dibley, built up a great sense of enthusiasm and excitement for their final show of the year with one of the more inventive publicity campaigns of this year. Fortunately, this show did not disappoint as the whole cast performed outstandingly and should be proud of their work.
While the play itself may not have been a ground-breaking choice, the creative way in which the company approached the performance made the experience of watching The Vicar of Dibley more than just your average evening out at the theatre. Staging the performance in Elvet Methodist Church worked perfectly, as my fears about the negative effects this might have on the lighting and sound, or the worry that the lack of tiered seating might obstruct much of the audience’s views, only proved to be small obstacles the company could overcome. It was a refreshing change to see a play without being seated in total darkness, to be aware of the presence of the other audience members (and their enjoyment) throughout. And the cast responded well to this different experience of performing, maintaining all aspects of their character, from their (often uncomfortable!) postures and walk, to their distinctive actions and manners, while making their entrances and exits in relative darkness. With the soft lighting changes this created, along with a simple but effective set, it really did feel like we were not just watching a play, but actually peeking into the lives of some traditional Dibley parishioners.
The background of the Church, set, and technical decisions, however, would not have been enough in themselves to make this production the entertaining success it is, had the actors not risen to the challenges of their roles. Charlotte Thomas (the Vicar of Dibley) was of course the star of the show, rising to the role of the Vicar with all the gusto and sass needed, Thomas commanded the stage with charisma. But she was far from the only star, with strong performances from throughout the cast. Ross McCreery (as Jim Trott) deserves special mention because, in the most complementary way possible, I completely believed he was an old man. How he held that hunch throughout and kept the stuttering voice going so perfectly, I don’t know – but it worked! Eugene Smith was excellent as a sweet but bumbling Hugo, while Uday Duggal (as David Horton) was thoroughly believable as his officious and overbearing father (I was a bit scared of him, although Duggal also captured the softer moments towards the end of the play well). On the younger side of the parish council, Wilf Wort also shone (he certainly swore!) as Owen Newitt, adding wonderful comic timing, vigorous energy, and a refreshing touch of coarseness to the play.
All in all, The Vicar of Dibley was a successful and engaging production. There were some great one-liners, fantastic cameo appearances, and many a laugh-out-loud moments. The play may not have been a radical choice or an ambitious statement, but not everything needs to be. This was the perfect relaxed evening, providing some exuberant and enthusiastic light-hearted entertainment to round off the year.