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‘Dick Barton: Special Agent’

Dick Barton: Special Agent is a play I did not know before I was invited to review it and I am so pleased that it was Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company who gave me my first taste of it.  The audience comprised of people who clearly remembered the radio series and the atmosphere amongst them was one of excited anticipation at the thought of an evening of nostalgia.

Just before the production began certain members of the cast began to take their places among the audience.  A good touch, and one that added to the anticipation amongst the audience.

Dave Simmonds certainly "suffered for his art" in the opening scene!   I'm sure many of us would be nervous enough opening a play the right way up, let alone hanging from the ankles!   The mood and tempo of the production was set extremely well by Dick and Baron Scarheart, who was played by Paul Passi.  I wondered initially if Baron Scarheart's facial scar was a bit over the top, but as the play went on I decided it was in-keeping with the farcical (in a good way!) elements of the production.

The use of the television screens in the auditorium was very well done; I could tell that the positioning of the screens had been given careful consideration and I was glad that the screens had been "aged" to be in-keeping with the period.

Mark Randall as the MC set the scene for the Vipers Nest well, if a little fast for my liking.  Perhaps he could have watched some footage of Old Time Music Halls in preparation.

The audience's first glimpse of Mariam Gaballa-Gill as Marta Heartburn was exactly right.  The programme states that Mariam "wishes she was as bold, powerful and dangerous as Marta" - it certainly did not show!  I was left in no doubt that Marta Heartburn was all of those things and more.  I would imagine the role is a difficult one to play in that any inhibitions would lessen the seductive effect of Marta Heartburn's character, but Mariam really did the character justice.

Rosey Bloxham created a charming character as Daphne Fritters, and gave us an accomplished performance.

It was during the chain gang scene that I begun to notice the attention to detail that was thematic throughout the production.  I really appreciated the effect of the shaping of the Hacks on the stage and I noticed the attention to small details such as the way in which the pick axes were held.

Sherief Hassan did an excellent job as Jock; accents are notoriously difficult to pull off in my opinion and Sherief's accent came across extremely well.

Simon Vaddems portrayed an outstanding Snowy(!).  It was an energetic performance and one which again highlighted the meticulous attention to detail.  A demanding part I should imagine but it was seamless and he showed no signs of flagging as the production went on!

Greg Rudkin-Moore as the BBC Announcer was outstanding.  The gradual progression from restrained TV announcer to excitable TV announcer was a delight to watch.  He had the accent and demeanour down to a tee; one could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a "legitimate" broadcaster.

The songs in the production were a nice surprise and were all well performed.  I felt that the backing track of the piano was slightly too loud, but - intentional or not - I felt the style of playing suited the era and the production in general!  Credit should also go to Andrew Darby for his composition of "Marta's Place".  I tend not to read my programme until after I have seen a production so I did not realise it was an original piece.  It definitely stood unashamedly shoulder to shoulder with the other music in the score.

The use of screen shadows in the scene of "Marta's Heartache" were absolutely wonderful.  An innovative idea extremely well carried through they caused great hilarity in the audience.

I also want to mention the wardrobe, hair and make-up and props departments as the attention to detail was carried through in these aspects too.  All too often comments are made about errors of judgment or anachronisms in these areas but I was very impressed with all I saw.

The cast portraying different characters does not always work in my opinion, but this production highlighted the talent and versatility of the cast involved.

I was able to relax and enjoy this play - it was extremely entertaining and funny and it definitely left me wanting more, which all the best shows should!

Thank you to Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company for the invitation and your generous hospitality.

Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company


Review date: 21st June 2013

Boxmoor Playhouse, Hemel Hempstead

Director:  Karina Bygate


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