The Vicar of Dibley is coming to the Littlehampton stage

Director Maureen Ayres promised her cast she wouldn’t be laughing all the way through every rehearsal.

Stage-Door Vicar of Dibley - Maureen Ayres the Director
Stage-Door Vicar of Dibley - Maureen Ayres the Director

It’s not a promise she has been able to keep, she confesses.

“It is just so funny and so well written!”, says Maureen.

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The play is The Vicar of Dibley by Ian Gower and Paul Carpenter, adapted from the original TV series by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer.

It is the next show from Littlehampton’s Stage-Door Theatre company, with performances from July 17-20 at 7.30pm at the Windmill Theatre, Littlehampton (tickets on 07367 182621).

“I am loving every minute of it,” says Maureen.

“Usually the play is chosen for me, like this one, and they just said would I like to direct The Vicar of Dibley – and I said ‘Not ‘alf! Yes please!’ It is such a joy.”

The Vicar of Dibley originally ran on BBC One from November 1994 to January 1998, with three sets of specials in the winters of 1999-2000, 2004-2005 and 2006-2007.

It is set in a fictional small Oxfordshire village called Dibley following the 1992 changes in the Church of England that permitted the ordination of women.

Maureen has been part of Stage-Door for nine years now after moving down from Harrow.

“I belonged to a group in Harrow where I was for more than 20 years.

“I ended up being chairman and dog’s body around the group, but I loved it. It was all a complete accident how I joined.

“I wandered into the tea room. I was getting divorced and I was a bit cheesed off, and somebody said ‘Come and watch a rehearsal!’

“I went in and this young woman said ‘Oh good! Another female!’ and handed me a script and said ‘Page 24!

“She said ‘She is in her 70s and is a bit dotty!’

“I was only about 40 at the time!”

When Maureen moved to West Sussex, she was recommended Stage-Door.

It was arranged that she should go along, but on the night she couldn’t find the church hall and had to give up.

She phoned the next day to apologise and was urged to try again.

She found out where the hall was and turned up.

“When I pulled into the car park, this chap came up and said ‘You must be Maureen. I am Mike.’

“And then he said ‘Everybody, this is Maureen. She has been wandering the streets of Littlehampton since Monday night trying to find us!’ And I thought ‘Oh yes, these are my kind of people! I have loved it. They are such a joy to work with. They are just so welcoming. Nobody is ‘darling this’ or whatever.

“We are all amateurs. We are all doing it for the love of it and we all feel the same way about it.

“I directed at Harrow maybe half a dozen plays.

“When I came down here, they heard about it and asked if I would direct, and I said ‘No, not until I get to know you!’”

But often the invitation comes after a couple of big acting roles: “And I think to myself oh great! No line learning!

“And I have got a great cast for this. I have been on stage with all of them, some of them with other groups, and it is great to work with somebody who is terrific and very considerate and very generous.”

There is a supportiveness shared between everyone at the company that Maureen finds really appealing. As she says, no egos... simply a shared love of the theatre and a desire to help everyone deliver the best possible performances.

“If you are like ‘Oh! What is my line?’ somebody will say something and you will get your line back, and that takes a great generosity of spirit on their behalf to do that, and they are all like that.

“They aren’t doing it for themselves. They are doing it for all of us.”