You wouldn t think plasticine could be more expressive than live actors, but when the plasticine is in the hands of Oscar-winning Nick Park and the characters are his wonderful animated creations Wallace and Gromit, the scales tip decidedly in favour of the plasticine. In A Grand Night Out, creator Andrew Dawson and producer John Gore try to recreate the animated, West End success they had with Thunderbirds FAB - and fail.
A Grand Night Out is an all-new Wallace and Gromit adventure written specifically for this stage production and it takes its inspiration from the new medium. Wallace (Paul Filipiak) has created a remarkable invention - the “pan-theatricon”, a fully automated, travelling theatre which also doubles as a caravan. The device is of course full of Wallace glitches, creating lots of hijinx opportunities. But the fun soon turns to fear when the remote control falls into the hands of the dastardly penguin, Feathers Macgraw (Angela Clerkin) who s escaped from prison and is intent on wreaking revenge on man and dog.
For those in the know, the familiar elements are all there. In fact, so much of the plot, and certainly the most successful gags, refer to the films that it could be frustrating for those who ve somehow missed the Park phenomenon. The love interest gone awry with Wendolene (Joyce Henderson), the cheese fetish, Feather s rubber glove chicken plumage not to mention his vendetta and, of course the wonderful techno-trousers all put in appearances.
Each of which met with raucous applause by the most vocal critics in the audience - the children. They d obviously seen all the films and appreciated the in-jokes. They booed and hissed whenever Feathers appeared, ahhed when Gromit was wrongfully turfed out and cheered when he came, as any loyal dog would, to the rescue of his master. They were especially clamorous during the tauter and more eventful second act.
In terms of physical theatrics, Clerkins silent Feathers outperforms the rest with her wonderful mincing gait and evil grimaces. Filipiak also does a fine job of replicating Wallace s idiosyncratic speech and manners - ums and ahs and awkward stances - while Russ Edwards manages some convincing Gromit wide-eyed stares. But these are only brief moments of almost capturing the feel of the original. Not a very flattering imitation on the whole.
If you ve got a few pint-sized Wallace and Gromit fans to entertain, A Grand Night Out might be just the ticket for an alternative to conventional pantomime this Christmas season. Otherwise, you re better off renting a video - The Wrong Trousers is my favourite.
Terri Paddock, November 1997