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Watch It, Sailor! review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘gentle, nostalgic comedy’

Laura Darrall, Helen Macfarlane, Heather Phoenix and Elizabeth Marsh in Watch It, Sailor! at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo by Keith Pattison. Laura Darrall, Helen Macfarlane, Heather Phoenix and Elizabeth Marsh in Watch It, Sailor! at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Photo by Keith Pattison.

This summer’s rep at Theatre by the Lake has Hare, Munro and Sophokles in the studio, while the Main House offers The Rivals, Dial M for Murder and, as season opener, early 1960s comedy Watch it, Sailor! It’s the kind of gentle calamities-on-the-morning-of-the-wedding comedy which makes ‘Allo ‘Allo look like Joe Orton. But it works, thanks to the nostalgic oomph of a setting in the urban Lancashire of early Coronation Street and some inspired comic characterisation.

Martin Johns’ set design gives the game away before the show starts by topping a typical terrace parlour with cheesy wedding card bells, doves and bows, and Maura Guthrie’s pre-show soundtrack features inoffensive post rock’n’roll pre-Beatles Britpop. Director Ian Forrest brings a practised eye for slapstick and comic physicalisation, and ensures that even early in the run pace and timing are top-notch.

Oliver Mott and Helen Macfarlane anchor as the happy couple, Laura Darrall brings just the right blowsy energy to her role as bridesmaid, and Thomas Richardson’s dourly puritanical Presbyterian pal of the groom glowers with repressed disapproval. Kieran Buckeridge’s authority figure nicely unravels before our eyes. But the show belongs, as all old Corrie fans know, to the older generation. Elizabeth Marsh’s nosy neighbour is a 10-year old in a 50 year old’s body, and Peter Rylands brings wry comic timing to his put-upon husband. Heather Phoenix’s battleaxe mother dominates with formidable rolling-pin brassiness. But the scenery has most to fear from Maggie Tagney’s weepy put-upon aunt, who ends up stealing the show.

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Verdict
Gentle comedy buoyed by some powerful comic performances
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