Review – The Lavender Hill Mob, Festival Theatre, Chichester, 14th January 2022

Lavender Hill MobEight of us descended on the Chichester Festival Theatre on Saturday night for the last night of Phil Porter’s stage adaptation of the famous Ealing Comedy The Lavender Hill Mob – or at least, the last night of this leg of its UK tour, which started last October and continues for a few more weeks before they all finally get to put their feet up.  And it was with a great sense of curiosity that I attended, as I have read some extremely positive comments about the show, and also one comment (from someone whose opinion I respect) saying it was one of the worst shows they’ve ever seen. It must be Marmite!

Gold!But first, allow me to offer you a little history lesson, gentle reader – do you remember the original film? It was released in 1951, starred Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, and featured a very young Audrey Hepburn; and the British Film Institute ranked it the 17th Greatest British Film of All Time. That’s some reputation! Mrs Chrisparkle and I had never seen it until a few weeks ago when, knowing that we were going to be seeing this new stage version, thought we ought to take a look at the film so that we would be able to make those invidious comparisons between the two that you should never do. And, indeed, it is a charming and very well-made comedy caper which we both enjoyed – although I’d never put it anywhere near the 17th Greatest British Film of All Time. Not considering Genevieve is only listed 86th and Shirley Valentine doesn’t appear at all.

Aamira ChallengerIn case you don’t know – and I’m sure you do – Henry Holland is an unambitious London bank clerk, in charge of supervising the Gold Bullion deliveries from the Royal Mint. Enlisting the help of a slightly less-than-honest manufacturer of tourist trash – specifically miniature Eiffel Towers – and a couple of other petty crooks, he hatches a plan to steal the bullion bars and, using his accomplice’s workshop, convert them into Golden Eiffel Towers. But, of course, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, and the main emphasis of the film (maybe slightly less of the play) is on the comedy ensuing from their failed attempts to get away with it.

Death by baguetteSo is it Marmite? Well, yes. Four of us really enjoyed it, the other four (including myself) found it a bit meh. On the plus side, I was very impressed how faithfully it reflected the original film, taking us to Rio whence Holland has fled to escape the Metropolitan Police hunting for the Brains (?) behind the big gold bullion heist. Whereas the film then flashes back to London and shows the main story, the play stays in Rio, where Holland coaxes all the ex-pats at his Club to enact the story of the crime – and they don’t need much coaxing. The film has the marvellous twist that the person to whom Holland is recounting his story throughout the film is in fact the police officer come to arrest him – whereas that twist is missing from the stage production, resulting in rather a lame ending.

Ooh la laThat said, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments – my favourite was the delightful “Calais to Dover” scene where our anti-heroes get thwarted at every attempt to follow the bunch of schoolgirls who have unknowingly purchased six genuine Golden Eiffel Towers. There’s a lot of physical comedy, but some of it seems just a trifle half-hearted. Francis O’Connor has constructed an excellent set that frames many of the elements of English country life that you might well miss if you were an ex-pat in Rio, but which adapt very nicely into the story. I loved how the two palm trees at the back of the stage became the Eiffel Tower – very innovative!

Justin EdwardsAnd there’s a very charming ensemble feel to the whole staging; one of our party thought the show felt very Am Dram, which is true but is also probably exactly what the creative team intend. These Rio Brits are not actors, they’re retired knights of the realm or ambassadors, or well-to-do Ladies; and they take on the roles of the crooks with a nice blend of their own characterisations and those of the people they are portraying. Quite clever really; but it is that sense of amateurism that basically overshadows the whole production, leaving you feeling a bit dissatisfied.

Miles JuppIs it basically a vehicle for Miles Jupp to present himself as a rather posh, well-educated, upper middle class sort of chappie, without having to do that much acting? Probably. That said, he’s very entertaining as Holland; there are also nice performances from Justin Edwards, Tessa Churchard and John Dougall as locals-cum-Londoners. Tim Sutton brings a fine touch of magic (literally) to the role of Sammy, and Aamira Challenger’s Fernanda lends a hint of what feels like Genuine Rio to the production. EiffelI felt rather sorry for Guy Burgess in the unrewarding role of Farrow the police officer, constantly having to be the onlooker and rarely taking part in proceedings.

However, I came away from the show feeling that it was all a little underwhelming, although I’m not sure that they could have done anything better with the material at their disposal. Nevertheless, there was a lot to enjoy and a lot of laughs – if not quite as many as one might have expected. It’s certainly not bad – and it’s certainly not great. The tour continues to Cambridge, Guildford, Glasgow, Bath and Truro.

Production photos by Hugo Glendinning

3-starsThree-sy Does It!

Review – Miles Jupp, Songs of Freedom, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 28th September 2016

miles-jupp-songs-of-freedomIt wasn’t until I saw that Miles Jupp would be doing a stand-up tour this year that I actually appreciated that he was a comedian per se. I’d only known him from being in the wonderful Rev (still hoping for a fourth series) and from occasional appearances on Have I Got News For You. However, I am ashamed to discover that Mr Jupp is inter alia a seasoned stand-upper, having won both So You Think You’re Funny and a Perrier Award; this is, I believe, his fourth (possibly fifth?) solo show.

RevIt’s clear that he has attracted a certain following, judging from the attendees in the Royal Theatre last night. Although all ages were represented, there were considerably more older people there than you would normally expect for a comedy gig. He confesses that research has been undertaken to discover the profile of the average Miles Jupp fan – they’re into shopping, driving, and watching TV; and their favourite song is Don McLean’s American Pie. Verily, they were the types of people surrounding us in the stalls last night. Mr Jupp has a very middle-class, respectable, conservative (with a small c) persona which stems from both his bearing and his Standard English accent; you expect him to deliver comic material with a clipped and refined character, with the wit of an Oscar Wilde and the edgy danger of a slice of Battenberg.

miles-jupp-in-revPart of his opening routine recollects a gig in Spalding where he overhears a man leaving the concert; his wife asks him what he thought of the show and he replies to the effect: what a nice man, but what unexpected content. This gives rise to some nice speculation that instead he could be vile and predictable. But I do know precisely where this man in Spalding is coming from (apart from, of course, Lincolnshire.) Mr Jupp comes across as inordinately nice (apart from when he’s riled by the vicissitudes of 21st century living) – and his material really is at odds with his personality. This is his great strength; he can surprise or even shock his audience with apparent ease just by combining his niceness with his language – his observations about meeting someone interested in both golf and Formula One being a case in point. But a side effect of this is that all those rather genteel elderly ladies who are laughing their twinsets off at classic lines like “I’ve died and gone to Waitrose”, reach for the smelling salts when he describes someone as a c*nt.

miles-juppMr Jupp’s style is largely relaxed and intimate. He walks about a bit to help things keep moving naturally, but he’s not one of these comics who cavort across all areas of the stage like a caged tiger. The show is essentially scripted to the nth degree; he did imply at the beginning that if we wanted to interact with him from the audience with any verbal duelling, he’d be up for it; but, charming elderly clientele like us were far too polite actually to take him up on it – possibly to our own detriment.

miles-jupp-all-on-one-sideHis material is always telling and recognisable; from how his children pick up on his observations and repeat them, four-letter words and all, to the horrendous moment when you have to go back to your wife to clarify where she said she’d left something; from the Prince of Wales and his Duchy foodstuffs to the reason why Joan of Arc wasn’t burnt in Wales. The whole show is paced perfectly, with a gradual introduction and gathering of growing threads, followed by a second half crescendo full of top stories and laugh out loud situations.

miles-jupp-cant-use-the-toiletA rather smart and elegant approach to stand-up; don’t expect a manic couple of hours, more a measured, reflective, yet still gently neurotic experience which will have you laughing in recognition at so many of the things that irk us all. His tour continues throughout October, January and February and I’d definitely recommend it!