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TV hit 'Allo 'Allo comes to the Theatre Royal stage in Bury St Edmunds

Based on the hugely successful British television series, ’Allo ’Allo opens at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds, on November 6. Produced by the Irving Stage Company, the comedy relates the adventures of café owner René in Nazi occupied France.Director Angela Smith talks about the joys of working on the production and what audiences can expect

How does the stage version of ’Allo ’Allo compare to the television sitcom and what drew you to taking on the role of directing?

Anyone familiar with the television sitcom will instantly recognise the stage version. It distils eight series’ worth of the best lines, plots and characters into two hours – which packs a lot of laughter into one show.

’Allo ’Allo is part of British sitcom history and its theme tune conjures up memories of Saturday evenings huddled around the television. I also played the part of Helga many years ago, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to recreate this for an audience at the wonderful Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds.

’Allo ’Allo is set 70 years ago and was first broadcast more than 35 years ago. Is it still relevant to audiences today?

There are many timeless comedy tropes in ’Allo ’Allo, a colourful and disparate mix of people forced together at difficult times, elements of farce and some cracking one liners. Admittedly, some of the content is of its time and I do wonder if sections of the dialogue would be written the same way today, but because it never crosses the line it remains part of its charm.

The cast of the Irving Stage Company production of Allo Allo.Rene Artois (Colin Musgrove), Yvette (Jess Hughes)PICTURE: Andy Abbott (5020705)
The cast of the Irving Stage Company production of Allo Allo.Rene Artois (Colin Musgrove), Yvette (Jess Hughes)PICTURE: Andy Abbott (5020705)

As director what elements of this show make you most excited to bring it to the Theatre Royal stage?

Certainly putting on a comedy, which is sometimes looked down upon in theatrical circles. But for me, helping to ensure we hit the right beats and draw the best from the material with pace and dynamism is a thrilling challenge. We’re bringing very familiar characters to life and it’s important that the audience feel immediately comfortable with the stage cast.

Luckily, we had a fabulous turnout for auditions so were able to pull together many talented local people who can both play and look the part.

Tell us about your cast and crew

In a word, fantastic! We have some Irving Stage Company stalwarts, who will be familiar to anyone who has seen our recent shows, with a very healthy blend of new members.

This is mirrored behind the scenes with the support and technical team. Some are returning to theatre after a long break but the standard is high, with many having been involved with theatre professionally.

Two of the cast are engaged – and thankfully remain so – they also happen to be acting with their fathers for the first time.

You really form strong friendships and happy memories during a production like this.

How have rehearsals been, what’s been fun and what’s been difficult so far?

Putting on any show requires a great deal of dedication. We’ve been rehearsing several times a week since July, so this brings challenges as we all try to juggle work and family life with our passion for performing.

It never ceases to amaze me how community theatre can draw people together from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds that form lasting and meaningful bonds. In fact, I don’t know why it’s not used in corporate team-building exercises, so I guess the camaraderie is a highlight.

What aspects of the show do you think will really stick with the audience when they leave the theatre?

Well, hopefully the aching in their ribs! There are so many great performances and moments that I hope the audience will have many favourites, but likely candidates are the blow-up Hitlers, Knockwurst sausages or the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies.

This is your first time directing with the Irving Stage Company. How have you found the experience so far and have there been any challenges?

I’ve genuinely loved every minute! I may have underestimated the amount of effort that has been required just in terms of all the hats the director wears. So, for example, one minute you are choreographing a Gestapo Tango and the next liaising with the technical support team at the theatre – that takes some multi-tasking.

Are there any show highlights from your point of view?

I refuse to be drawn on my favourite scenes or character so will diplomatically have to say that the costumes are a real highlight.

We’ve been very fortunate to have Nic Metcalfe (our very own Capt Alberto Bertorelli), who has put together the wardrobe with a meticulous approach to researching and sourcing the costumes. They are first class. He even managed to source an original World War Two trench coat from a basement in Berlin.

You’ve appeared in a number of productions at the Theatre Royal over the years. As a venue, what’s it like to perform in?

Yes, I was nine years old when I first performed at the Theatre Royal and have been lucky to have played a wide range of parts, from leads in serious plays to musicals and ensembles pieces.

Regardless of the part it’s always a genuine privilege when you first walk through the stage door of the Theatre Royal. It has a magical and intimate feeling like no other I’ve played in. I think this is partly down to the sense of history but also owes a great deal to the beautiful and sensitive renovations undertaken more recently. Perhaps this is why my fiancé and I are hosting our wedding reception there next year!

What do you do for your day job and how do you juggle that with amateur dramatics?

I’m an executive director at West Suffolk College, normally enough to keep me busy on its own. But I’m lucky in that it does have reasonably regular office hours leaving many evenings and weekends free.

While the show has been all-consuming, it’s also a wonderful escape from the day-to-day. . . ‘laughter is the best medicine’ as they say.

I’ve also had the full support of my gorgeous fiancé and children, whose shared love of theatre has helped enormously. Being able to discuss thoughts and ideas, even into the early hours, has been a great shared experience and one we will look back on very fondly.

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