Dinnerladies: Second Helpings – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

Victoria Wood’s dinnerladies was a sitcom that ran for two years (1998-2000) on BBC and starred Victoria Wood and Julie Walters amongst it’s cast. The original tv show was always recorded in front of a live audience and therefore the move from small screen to stage should be a simple one and for the most part this is the case.

The first stage show, simply titled “dinnerladies” toured in 2009 and was based on episodes from the second series. “Second Helpings” is also based on episodes from the second series culminating in the final episode.

Set entirely in the canteen of HWD Components, a fictional factory in Manchester, the central characters are the caterers and regular customers (although in the stage show there do not appear to be many customers) and their lives. Wood’s writing is likeable and so are her characters and these are brought to life by a talented cast.

The main characters are Tony the catering manager, played by Andrew Dunn (who has played the role not only in the original tv show but also in all stage versions as well) and Bren, played by Laura Sheppard. The character of Bren was the one that Victoria Wood played herself in the tv show, if there is one criticism it is that Laura plays the character not only of Bren but at times as an impersonation of Victoria Wood herself and this is at times somewhat distracting as you find yourself thinking that she reminds you of Victoria Wood and not instead getting lost in the character of Bren.

Sue Devaney played office worker Jane in the tv show and the character does make a cameo appearance near the start of “Second Helpings”. However in this production Sue has swapped the role of Jane to take on the part of Petula, Bren’s mother (played by Julie Walters in the tv series). Once more Devaney like Sheppard at times slips into a portrayal of Walters playing Petula rather than just being Petula. That said Devaney’s “Petula” is excellently performed, you imagine yourself being Bren and wanting to hide from her mother’s outlandish and embarrassing actions, Bren meanwhile doesn’t seem fazed by her at all.

The show is gentle and funny, at times some of the humour is perhaps more risque than the original tv production but never verges so far as to reach the point of vulgarity.

If you like the original tv show you will love “Second Helpings” and I can think of far worse things to spend two hours doing than spending it with the dinnerladies.

— Mark Keable —

• dinnerladies: second helpings will be performed at the Mercury Theatre Colchester from Monday 20th to Saturday 25th June 7.30pm with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are available from the Box Office on 01206 573948 or online at www.mercurytheatre.co.uk