Audiences who turn to Hitchin’s Queen Mother Theatre for their entertainment are no stranger to comedies inspired by TV sitcom hits.

The Comet: Clare is nervous but excited about kicking off the show tomorrow night. Photography by LucidFreamPictures.comClare is nervous but excited about kicking off the show tomorrow night. Photography by (Image: Julian Newman Turner)

But usually the premise is rooted in a period long ago, or a flight of fancy that spins off from reality into its own little world.

Not so The Vicar of Dibley, which opens at the Walsworth Road theatre tomorrow night.

The inspiration for the original TV hit couldn’t have been more current when it was first shown – just after the Church of England had finally agreed to allow the ordination of women.

In a rural parish, the new vicar arrives – and instead of the expected Gerald, the new arrival sporting a dog collar is Geraldine.

Director Sally Hull and the Rev Geraldine Grainger herself, Clare Bailey, lead the team bringing the stage adaptation of the show, which starred Dawn French as the shepherd to a flock of eccentric characters, to Hitchin.

Clare is making her return to acting after an extended period away from the stage.

“I saw the audition while I was looking to get my son into youth theatre – I hadn’t done any acting since I was 18 so I was quite nervous,” she said.

“But a lot of people say that Dawn French and I are quite alike so I thought I’d give it a go.

“I have taken lots of advice from Sally and I looked back over the box sets to remind myself how to channel the character.

“Although we are quite similar, it won’t be a direct copy of Dawn French.”

Clare, a teacher at the town’s Whitehill Junior School, has heaps of praise for her fellow cast members.

“They have been absolutely amazing,” she said. “They’re all seasoned performers and are very professional. They have been absolutely lovely in supporting me and welcoming me into the group.

Sally, 71, has been part of the Players set-up since she was 13.

She started off as a dancer and actress and has taken on the challenge of directing in recent years – with sitcom adaptations something a speciality. Previous productions have included Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers and Hi-de-Hi!

“I thought the TV show was great. I never put on a show I don’t like,” said Sally.

“We have been rehearsing since November and it’s been going really well. I love directing live shows – seeing words on a page become real on the stage.”

And a word of warning for any members of clergy who may join the audience, of whatever sex.

Sally said: “They should be warned that the language is rather ripe!”

The show runs until next Saturday, March 5 and you can find out more about the show online at

Next up for the company is a tougher proposition, David Hare’s Skylight which will be running in the theatre’s studio space from Wednesday, March 16 for three days. It’s billed as an award-winner spiked with bitter humour and a twist in the tale – visit the website to find out more.