Event review: Theatre Workshop Coulsdon presents Dick Barton and the Slaves of the Sultan

By - Tuesday 15th August, 2017

A woodland glade, a missing heiress and many a stiff upper lip

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

Armed with one flask of coffee, two Danish pastries, two folding chairs and five blankets, Sue Harling and I made our way from the car park of the Coulsdon Manor Hotel to the open-air set of Dick Barton and the Slaves of the Sultan, staged by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon. The weather had been variable over the run, from hurricane force winds to torrential downpours, so we were very fortunate that for this penultimate show it was fair and dry.

For those theatre goers who had not had the foresight to bring coffee and pastries, there was an inviting-looking barbeque and bar area outside the auditorium, from which emanated a most enticing aroma. Front of house operations were very slick, and we were ushered through and into the seating area where a suitable position was found for us to pitch our chairs.

I have to say that at this point the set looked distinctly unpromising; an unfinished-looking wooden partition across the stage with a door on each side, and a central panel. My fears were however unfounded as this set was in fact designed to be used to very clever effect. The scenes switched effectively between the radio announcer, played by the dead-pan Bruce Montgomery, and the action in various locations, by means of the central section of the set revolving through 180 degrees. In this way scene changes were carried out with the minimum of fuss, with actors and props arriving and leaving by this means or through one of the two doors.

Dick Barton solves crimes, escapes perilous situations and saves the nation every night of the week

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

Slaves of the Sultan started life as a ten minute comedy written by Richard Lloyd for TWC’s 2015 anthology production, Radio Days, and was a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the BBC Light Programme’s 1940s wireless adventure serial, Dick Barton – Special Agent. This long-running cult serial followed the thrilling adventures of ex-commando officer Richard Barton MC.  He, along with his loyal chums, Jock Anderson and Snowy White, solved all sorts of crimes, escaped from perilous situations, and saved the nation from disaster most nights of the week. This full-length version was written in response to the many questions Lloyd got asking “What happened next?” and “Are you going to write a sequel?”

The story follows Dick and his sidekicks Snowy and Jock, after they are called in by the Armaments Ministry to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy heiress, Felicity Buff-Orpington, whose family has made its fortune in the arms manufacturing business. Many stiff upper lips, musical interludes, narrow escapes, plot twists and comic capers in Africa and Penge later, Barton of course saves the day. All the baddies are shot dead and Felicity and her mad Scottish maid Morag are safely back in Blighty.

Slaves of the Sultan is described as a comedy-thriller full of double entendres, and in this respect it certainly gives Finbarr Saunders a run for his money, especially since some of the double entendres spilled over into the quite explicit. The show was however very funny, even if some of the humour was rather un-PC in places and perhaps not to everyone’s taste. That said, on this occasion at least, the audience definitely appeared to be appreciating it.

The nymphomaniac matriarch of the Buff-Orpington family was hilarious

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

The whole production was extremely professional, and all the cast clearly relished their roles. Joe Wilson gave a convincing performance as our hero Dick Barton, and Luke Argles nicely portrayed the dim-witted Snowy, with Pete Bird as the capable Scot, Jock Anderson. Dawn Ford was suitably haughty as the missing heiress Felicity Buff-Orpington, with Hannah Montgomery as her mad-cap and feisty Scottish maid, Morag McGovern. Lucy-Ann Martin was perfect as the not-so-innocent Cicely Chichester and Rosa Ruggeri, John East and Indianna Scorziello were comically evil as the slightly ‘Allo ‘Allo-esque trio, The X Faction. Penny Payne was hilarious as Lady Muriel, the nymphomanic matriarch of the Buff-Orpington family, and Lisa Lloyd was delightful as Barton’s sticky-beaked housekeeper Mrs Snodgers.

Mike Brown as Major Reginald Fffoulkes, Steve North as James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth and Paul Ford as Sir Roderick Snashall all carried off their parts with great gusto. Connor Nestor played both the elephant-trampled love interest Roger Burke-Moseley and the eunuch Selim Jiz (how did he get his voice that high?). Chris Argles was the mysterious Kaesh Al-Gabouti and Steve Jacobs opened and closed the action as Barton’s deranged and revengeful ex-school friend Roly Farns-Barnsworth.

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable evening in a delightful setting, surrounded by people all clearly enjoying themselves both on and off the stage.

You can experience Theatre Workshop Coulsdon for yourself later this year at the company’s Christmas production, The Snow Queen. This is intriguingly subtitled ‘As Frost Falls, Adventure Calls’. Check out the website here.

Moira O'Donnell

Moira O'Donnell

Originally from Dundee, Moira has lived in Croydon for over twenty years, ever since her return to the UK from an overseas posting to the British Embassy in Brussels. When not at work, singing with the Croydon Bach Choir or having a cup of tea, she can be found avoiding housework by scampering about in one of Croydon's many green spaces and woodlands hunting down wildflowers, butterflies and any other interesting plants or creatures.

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