Meeting Sharon, Tracey and Dorien again is a bit like encountering distant relatives after a gap of more than a decade. Will they have changed much? Will they be less raucous company? The Woking audience did not wait to find out, enthusiastically applauding Pauline Quirke on her entrance, as she threatened a supposed burglar with a frozen chicken. Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph received similar welcoming ovations minutes later.
Linda Robson (Tracey), Pauline Quirke (Sharon) and Lesley Joseph (Dorien) in Birds of a Feather at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking Photo: John Kemp
The last news of these three from Chigwell, long pre-dating their reality-TV successors in The Only Way is Essex, was in 1998. There are differences: Sharon has lost enough weight to elicit jokes from Dorien about gastric bands and Dyno-Rod; Tracey is suffering from agoraphobia brought on by her separation from Darryl who has been in prison, although she manages to go out with her head in a Lidl bag. She now has a 16-year-old son, Travis (played by Robson’s own son Louis Dunford, alternating with Quirke’s son, Charlie Quirke), who thinks his father is dead.
There are determinedly topical references to “Cameronland”, Pippa Middleton and the demise of the News of the World. But some things remain deliciously the same, especially Joseph’s mini-skirted, bewigged, man-hungry Dorien, now - incongruously - in charge of a care home.
The writing is sharp, the gags as filthy and gleefully insulting as ever, but a play is quite a different proposition from a half-hour episode. The plot - involving a dead nonagenarian, a murder charge and mushrooms - peters out, but everyone is having such a good time, including onstage, that it really doesn’t matter a jot.