By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHEN?: Saturday 6 August (matinee), booking until 27 August 2022 RUNTIME: 150 minutes (with a 20-minute interval)
Jennings won 3 Oliviers between 1988 and 2003 and here plays a vicar who likes a drink, may have been unfaithful to his wife but is causing a stir in the parish because he won’t allow balloons at a Disney-loving dead girl’s funeral.
- Read on for reasons including how the author of The Southbury Child is the screenwriter of our favourite film
Why would a man of the cloth who has already betrayed many of the values inherent in that line of work be taking a stand over something so potentially divisive when the decision to give in would appear to be so easy?
Jennings’ David Highland is a complicated character and the fixed set is his vicarage kitchen where parishioners come and go, family members dart in and out and a new curate arrives to persuade the vicar to see the error of his ways.
Highland is making a stand because he believes it is important to give the grieving family what they want rather than what they need and it is a decision neither the child’s mother or uncle can understand.
Budding actress and Highland’s daughter Naomi, an impish Racheal Ofori, gets some of the best lines as she wonders just how a career on the stage ‘in a dress saying other people’s lines’ may have appealed as she is confronted by her father in his religious uniform.
David’s long-suffering wife Mary is given life by Phoebe Nicholls who conveys common sense and devotion to her husband but also can’t bear that she’s stood by him for so long while he clearly isn’t taking her advice.
Josh Finan as the dead girl’s uncle Lee Southbury is also a revelation because we can’t trust a word that comes from his mouth and yet he’s the most convincing liar.
Jack Greenlees as openly gay curate Craig Collier enjoys an unlikely subplot with 1 of the vicar’s daughters yet ultimately reminds that life is cyclical yet there is a depth to his character not least when the teetoaller explains to the struggling vicar that he too was familiar with the desire to down a bottle of spirits in a layby at 8am. We were quietly moved by Jo Herbert’s performance as daughter Susannah who sees in the curate a neat solution to her own problems.
If in doubt it’s Jennings’ performance that will win you over. He’s very funny even when he’s struggling to explain his own moral stance yet his position on the balloons is unequivocal and it is one we can understand even if we don’t fully empathise with his inflexibility.
The Southbury Child is a dark comedy never far from tragedy and it’s a marked shift in tone from author Stephen Beresford who wrote the screenplay for our favourite film, the life-affirming, Matthew Warchus-directed Pride.
The Vicar of Dibley this is not – although it is, perhaps surprisingly, similarly a lot of fun.
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