For years, they said it couldn't be done. The magic that was the Carry Ons faded slowly away in the twenty-odd years between the death of Sid James and Gerald Thomas. Sid's death marked the beginning of the end, Gerald's, shortly after Carry On Columbus, was the final nail in the coffin. Carry On was dead - Columbus proved that they couldn't be resurrected without the original team and Thomas' death proved that the unique directorial style was also no longer with us.
Then, along comes Terry Johnson's Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle & Dick; a play which is billed as being an examination of the relationships between Sid, Kenny and Babs during the making of those four films. It is all these things, but it's also so much more. Johnson has succeeded (he also directed the play) where every film since, in my opinion, Carry On Girls, has failed - the genre can be resurrected. From the very beginning, from the mock-Carry On opening sequence (an inspired touch), to the music, this is pure Carry On; it could be lifted straight from the late 60s; it really is that accurate.
CCED does succeed in its stated objective; that of demonstrating the complex, conflicting and ultimately destructive relationship between Sid James and Barbara Windsor. It does this in a very subtle way - a story which has been told in books and on television and radio so many times before comes alive thanks to Johnson's obvious love of the characters. Not only that, it's bloody funny to boot. And here comes the surprise; it's funny in *exactly* the same way that the Carry Ons were funny. We are treated to extremely believable portrayals of the cast (top marks to Samantha Spiro, Adam Godley and Geoffrey Hutchings), each of whom act just as we would expect them to; we've seen so many interviews before. However, just like in the Carry On films, these characters become embroiled in situations which are so outrageous, so ridiculous, that after only a few minutes, the entire audience was in stitches.
The portrayals of the three main characters are eerily real. It's almost too easy to forget that we are watching actors at work playing the beloved Sid, Kenny and Babs - it was just like watching the real thing, right there on stage. I had heard tell that the "impersonations" of the three main characters were less than accurate; if that's the case, then the three leads have been working hard on improving. I was utterly convinced. Congratulations to all three on not only getting the voices right, but also the mannerisms, both physical and vocal, as well as putting in some of the most sympathetic portrayals I have seen of any of the three. Too often, all we're told is that Kenny was a mysoginist, Sid an inveterate gambler and womaniser and Babs a clueless tart. CCED redresses that balance, and then some.
In short, if you're a fan of the Carry On series, then you need to see this play. I cannot think of a better epitaph for the series or its three troubled stars. It is sensitive, and yet at the same time over the top and hysterically funny. A masterpiece.