'Allo 'Allo leaves 'em laughing

'Allo 'Allo! by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft at Colchester Mercury until Saturday.It's not often you find a theatre packed to the rafters on a rainy Monday night but 'Allo 'Allo does the trick and there's barely a seat left for the rest of the week.

David Henshall

'Allo 'Allo! by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft at Colchester Mercury until today.

It's not often you find a theatre packed to the rafters on a rainy Monday night but 'Allo 'Allo does the trick and there's barely a seat left for the rest of the week. This audience, spread right across the age range, is not in search of the avante-garde; they know what they want: the mixture as before and this is what they get. In spades.

The cast names have changed, with only Vicki Michelle back in her familiar role as Yvette, but with infinite cunning the producers have made sure that the crazy characters are all still there, most of them looking surprisingly like the old gang on the telly.

Jeffrey Holland, a familiar face from other TV comedies like Hi-de-Hi, drops comfortably into the clothes of Rene the cafe owner, chatting comfortably with the audience about his several affairs while trying to avoid the amorous attentions of his poor frustrated wife.

At the same time, he keeps us up to date on the serpentine machinations of the plot which, aficionados will not be surprised to discover, involves the painting of The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Johannes Van Klomp which everybody wants to get their hands on, including the Fuhrer.

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It's probably the only show where the audience gives a round of applause to the pre-performance announcement that the use of mobile phones and taking pictures is not allowed. The strongly German-accented voice adds that anyone disobeying this order will be shot.

It is a night of great old-fashioned corny jokes and some naughty verbal and visual vulgarity. When Rene makes a nasty remark about his mother-in-law thumping on the bedroom floor with her walking stick, his frumpy wife Edith, her hair done up in bridge-roll curlers, tells him not to be unkind "because one day we will be old and up in the bedroom banging."

The double-entendres can only ever be taken one way and the show contains the sort of clever slapstick, coming-and-going timing and changes of costume that was once the hallmark of the Crazy Gang at the London Palladium.

There are even neat touches of cabaret with a nice mock-operatic song from Edith (Carol Ann Crawford) and a terrific tango from Herr Flick of the Gestapo and his sexy sidekick Helga (James Rossman and Nell Jeram).

And the whole thing builds to a wonderfully confused finale with three Hermann Goerings as well as four Adolf Hitlers and, you will be pleased to know, the precious Madonna safely back in the hands of the Resistance.

David Henshall.

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