The Ups and Downs of the Carry On Gang

Interview by Caroline Dutton


It'll be double entendres and bad puns all round when Carry On comes to Bolton until October 14. We spoke to the actress playing Barbara Windsor.

THERE'S no mistaking it - actress Sophie Abelson's voice has a definite high-pitched Barbara Windsor quality about her when she answers the phone for our interview. But Southport-born Sophie insists that's just coincidence.

"During casting the director made it clear he was looking for actors, not impersonators," she said.

"Although we have worked on the physicality of the characters. I can do the wiggling bottom and giggle but a lot of it is my own interpretation."

Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle And Dick, coming to Bolton Octagon from Thursday, September 21 until Saturday, October 14, will pay homage to one of the greatest British traditions of all time - the Carry On films. And although it will be packed full of the naughty seaside postcard humour that made the films so popular, it also acts as a poignant and affectionate tribute to a landmark in British comedy history. The play focuses on the three best-loved and most troubled stars -Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor.

The setting is Sid's caravan-cum-dressing room backstage at Pinewood Studios. Sid is finding it hard going - his caravan's sprung a leak, his strained relationship with acidic co-star Kenneth Williams is veering more towards hate than love and the young women are becoming harder to impress. Then on to the set wiggles Babs Windsor, a feisty, loud-mouthed, buxom blonde who gives just as good as she gets - and Sid falls hopelessly in lust. As the years pass, their unconventional relationship develops, while Sid's health and the quality of the films slowly deteriorate.

"All the characters are quite complex and have their own little back stories," said Sophie. "The great thing about the play is that it's got Carry On humour but has a dark side too. It looks at the complicated relationship between the three main characters, which at the time people weren't aware of. "There are some very dark parts. You find it with a lot of comedy actors - they have very sad lives behind the laughs. There's lots of tugging on the heart strings."

But Sophie assured Carry On fans they needn't worry about the laughs - there are plenty to be had.

"There's something for everybody to enjoy in this play, I genuinely believe that," she said. "There's laughs and naughtiness but also sadness. "And you don't have to know everything about the Carry On films to understand it. There are references but it's written in a very clever way so that you understand the story even if you don't get all the references."

This ability to work on a number of levels has always been a feature of the Carry On films, a fact Sophie realised when she watched the films back as an adult.

"When I was young I used to watch them every Saturday afternoon. For the play we had to watch a lot of them back again and I'm amazed at how I used to understand the films and laugh at the slapstick comedy, but totally miss the double entendres."