“Have you ever eaten a sandwich and then forgotten how it tasted?” A somewhat odd question posed by the courageously self-named ‘dinner man’ which I take home to ponder, my stomach still tickling slightly from the unceasing belly-laughs of tonight’s production of Welcome to the Parish of Cummerbund-Upon-Tweed: Please Drive Carefully.
The show itself is one big charmingly random adventure – enacting snapshot soliloquies and dialogues of the lives of the various and varying citizens of the small, proud northern town that is Cummerbund-upon-Tweed.
The audience is immediately thrust into the action even before the lights have gone down – we find ourselves greeted by the bustling citizens upon arrival, having been handed this week’s mass sheet, a small token with which we commence our whistle-stop tour of Cummerbund’s finest.
We begin in the local church for the somewhat modernised Sunday service lead by the crisp, well-spoken vicar, Desmond Desmond – ecclesiastical modernity incarnate with her innovative services presented on PowerPoint. We venture on to the expected culprits, the ‘big players’ in local government and the community : the council help worker who seeks to get his pledge signed for Pret a Manger to change their Hot Wrap labels after an incident involving a deceptive label and a slice of Halloumi; a discipline obsessed traffic warden who seeks to fix the ills of the world through her vigorous vigilance of the streets; the competitive and shouty Cummerbund football coach; the ‘dinner man’ who by choice of profession has been hurtled into the matriarchal world of the lunch server and forced to subject himself to linguistic castration by being called ‘dinner lady’.
Our journey is not limited to the elite in Cummerbund’s social fabric as we encounter those with perhaps a less obvious community role: the self-titled Morris dancer ‘Jenny of the Block’, a pair of Australian hippies, Cummerbund-upon-Tweed’s best (or at least arguably so) folk duo, and most unforgettably of all a bird who watches down upon the town.
The rants, thoughts and ponderings of each Cummerboy (and girl) are in turn perfectly punctuated by the recurring presence of Malcolm, an effeminate pensioner with an uncanny resemblance to Alan Bennett who regales the audience with tales of his small daily victories in Cummerbund, resulting in the uttering of his mantra ‘Malcolm one : World nil.’
The show is unequivocally hilarious in its randomness, each sketch as outrageous as the last – it displays a meticulous attention to detail and wholly convincing execution of each character: a perfect and playful exploration of the archetypal figures pertaining to any small town, sometimes an exaggeration of the expected or a side-splitting glimpse at the frankly quite bazaar.
The cast manages the big laughs by embodying and fulfilling the expectations of the stereotype, but keep every audience member on the edge of their seat by small bubbles of surprise injected into every proud Cummerboy (or girl), each as fascinating as the last.
Brilliant and a must see.
Welcome to the Parish of Cummerbund-Upon-Tweed is playing at the Burton Taylor Studio until 1st November
PHOTO/David Meredith and Tom Dowling