Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
After writing a number of plays based on imaginary meetings between famous people from Einstein and Marilyn Monroe to Freud and Dali to Benny Hill, Terry Johnson turned his attention to some of the central performers in the Carry On series of films: Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor.
Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick is set in Sid's changing caravan during the filming of the four Carry On films of the title between 1964 and 1978. Sid, a compulsive gambler and womaniser, meets Barbara and gradually becomes more and more obsessed with her. Kenneth has a close but antagonistic relationship with Sid, eventually finding that the one thing they have in common apart from the Carry On films is a particularly painful ailment. Into this famous trio come Sally, Sid's dresser who seems very keen on drawing his attention to a particular letter from someone claiming to be the result of one if his many brief affairs; Imogen, the latest extra that Sid takes back to his caravan; and Eddie, one of Barbara's husband's heavies, making sure she doesn't get up to anything on set.
Clive Mendus doesn't look much like Sid and doesn't seem very comfortable in the part or in delivering the comic lines when he first comes on, and even though he improves as the play proceeds he never really gets to grips with the role. C P Hallam doesn't look or sound greatly like Kenneth, but he gets the spirit of Kenneth Williams across and plays the part extremely well. Sophie Abelson, however, is absolutely superb as Barbara Windsor. She has perfected her walk, her gestures, her laugh and her voice, but this is more than just an impression and she gives a powerful performance. Catherine Kinsella is also extremely good as Sally, Rachel Donovan gets the knockabout comedy of her drunk scene just right and Ged Simmons performs a great little cameo as Eddie.
Atlanta Duffy's set consists of a cutaway of an old-fashioned and rather untidy caravan, with a full-sized wire frame of a caravan floating over it, and at certain times there is real rain pouring down on the Octagon's upper stage.
Paul Hunter's production is very entertaining, with some occasional odd touches that are funny but step completely out of the largely naturalistic style. I'm not convinced that the ending really works, but it gives a very interesting and quite moving insight into the background of people and films that we all know well.