Everyone loves the film. Something in the nostalgic British psyche likes to think of a gang of ruthless desperadoes lodging with a dear old lady, pretending to be a chamber music quartet, but being foiled by her innocence and their own incompetence. It was a jewel of Ealing cinema and then a wonderful stage adaptation, and now Eastern Angles home in on it, in their Christmassy panto spirit, with their own spoofy account of a similar old lady, Binkie, and her boarding-house in a quiet Ipswich lane (it’ll be a side street in Peterborough when they move it there).
This time, to enable in-jokes about actors, theatre production finances and crazy headgear, the villains have broken out of Norwich jail and their plan is to put on The Importance of Being Earnest, lure in the whole street and nip out to burgle their empty houses during brief periods offstage. A cast of five is valiantly gender-blind (Emma Barclay doubles as Binkie and as CowCrusher the heavy, and Keshini MIsha is Chugger). And, for a lot of the time, they’re very funny. Especially Daniel Copeland as the dimmest, beardiest of them . His veteran drop-dead timing provides the best laughs of the show. Especially when he plays Gwendolen and rather likes it. And it’s quite funny when he plays the flute too, in the musical numbers, because a big bearded heavy with a sweet piping flute always is.
Which is, I fear, a bit more drawn-out than it need be. Laura Keefe’s direction is full of good gags, not least the meta-theatre moments when they use us as the gullible audience, and Barclay’s turn as Binkie , full of local jokes (again, they’ll adapt them for Peterborough) is fun (“This is Rushmere Community Centre, where I first performed the Downward Dog”) . I loved the music, especially the robbery song, and more of that and less of the slower jokes would help. But, as so often, the spirit of place and the general glee the Angles’ Christmas show carries it through. Even into this filthy January.
box office easternangles.co.uk to 27 Jan