Review: Dinnerladies

Hit sitcom loses the plot


By John Nathan, June 24, 2010
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Palace Theatre, Manchester

Sue Devaney and Andrew Dunn are the only two cast members from the original TV series in the stage show

Sue Devaney and Andrew Dunn are the only two cast members from the original TV series in the stage show

If the sitcom was a giggle then this should have been a belly laugh. Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies, chronicling the mundane lives of mostly middle-aged women in a canteen kitchen, was a hit on telly. The switch to stage is, however, more of a miss.

Much of Wood's sparkling wit and finely observed comedy has been preserved, as have actors Andrew Dunn and Sue Devaney, who played Tony and Jane on the small screen.

But the truth is that a 30-minute television programme is spread far too thinly when it is presented as a two-hour show.

It is, in parts, very funny, in spite of the fact that almost nothing actually happens. A collection of TV scripts have been filleted for their funny bits and welded together into a stage show. Almost like a greatest hits album – performed by a tribute band.

Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, who starred in the TV version (as Bren and her mum Petula respectively) are sadly absent. Ditto Thelma Barlow and Shobna Gulati (both ex-Coronation Street), Anne Reid and Maxine Peak.

That is not a criticism. But the stage actors brought in appear to be trying
to play the television actors playing their roles, rather than simply playing their roles.

Certainly, actress Laura Sheppard bears more than a passing resemblance to Victoria Wood's character.

The intrigue is in the banter, especially considering the near absence of a compelling plotline. But as some of the audience around me were shrieking with laughter, I was inwardly huffing and puffing.

"Get on with it," I was thinking. "When is somebody going to do something?" And then the curtain fell. We were halfway through and I sank into a sort of despair.

I can best describe it as a really long conversation about nothing in particular. It is reasonably entertaining, but you could easily pop out for 10 minutes and not miss very much. The chat bounces between Monday morning blues, weekend exploits, sex, holidays, Christmas, sex, bacon, toast, Viagra, and a bit more sex. A quite surprising amount of sex, to tell you the truth.

When Bren quips that she will be spending Christmas with her bargain of three Carry On films for £3, I could not help thinking that there was an awful lot of shared nudging and winking comedy. It is all chatter like background music - present and pleasant - but there needs to be more than that to give a show a sense of purpose.

Certainly there is the 'will they, won't they?' predicament between the unlikely pair, Bren and Tony, which prompts colleagues to wager £50 on them consummating their relationship. She is burdened with a selfish and manipulative mother and he is pulling through his cancer battle - in between his
fag breaks.

There was the welcome thrill of a (small) plot surprise between them which jolted me from my seat and reminded me I was at the theatre. But, on balance, a boxed DVD set of television series is probably a safer bet.

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    Last updated: 11:59am, June 24 2010