Dick Barton at Southwold Summer Theatre

Dick Barton - Special Agent by Phil Willmott, Southwold Summer Theatre - St Edmund's Hall Southwold until August 11; Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh August 14 - 18

Dick Barton - Special Agent by Phil Willmott, Southwold Summer Theatre - St Edmund's Hall, Southwold, until August 11; Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh August 14 - 18

Cheers for the Special Agent and boos for the ugly arch villain. That's how it was at Southwold when Dick Barton took to the stage. And the audience was really up for it.

We all knew, those of us old enough, how we'd enjoy being transported back to the Golden Age of Radio. We only needed to hear The Devil's Gallop, Charles Williams's dramatic gem of a signature tune, and the terse BBC announcement - “Dick Barton - Special Agent!”

In the hands of writer Phil Wilmott the old radio superhero is sent up sky high and turned into a tongue-in-cheek comic-strip musical. We still love him and urge him on in his quest to put evil people behind bars. We also laugh ourselves rotten at him.


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This extravaganza, originally devised as a Christmas show for the Warehouse Theatre at Croydon, is part nostalgic cap-doffing, part spoof, part gags and rudery (much of it alluding to the Special Agent's first name), all in the cause of silly storytelling the nation's way out of a cliff-hanging pickle.

Baron Scarheart (Carl McCrystal) and his alluring but dangerous agent, Marta Hearttburn (Penelope Rawlins) are bent on taking over Britain by poisoning our tea. Anything more dastardly is hard to imagine.

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Director Mark Sterling has assembled a talented cast headed by the excellent Paul Leonard who does Dick, any number of other characters, has a darned good singing voice and hoofs like a good'un. All the cast, except Penelope Rawlins (a fine Dietrich-style temptress throughout) take all sorts of parts in all sorts of camped-up gear and sing new words to songs from Rule Britannia to Nessun Dorma. We have Snowey, Jock, the BBC announcer, lots of improbable blondes and even props that bring the house down.

Designer Maurice Rubens likes nothing more than to be able to go to town even with the tiny stage available at Southwold. This show gives him full rein, with a grinding punishment chamber over which Dick is dangled, a nightclub, Big Ben and much more. The scenes are all quickly changed as the show goes along and frequently win a cheer.

It's a more than just a fun night out. For me it recalled how fed up I was that the BBC deemed the radio programme was inappropriate for youngsters and replaced it with The Archers.

Ivan Howlett

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