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Coupon chaos... stage: Pools Paradise.

Byline: Karen McLauchlan

THE last play in Darlington's tenth anniversary summer rep season opening on Tuesday involves a pools coupon, a vicar's wife and tribe of clergymen.

One of its stars, Ben Roberts, is known to millions after spending 14 years in TV hit The Bill. His character Chief Inspector Conway might have met his TV end on the wrong side of a car bomb explosion six years ago, but Ben has been busy treading the boards up and down the country.

In the farce, he'll swap his copper's uniform for the robes of a clergyman in Darlington next week when he appears as the Bishop of Lax in the final play in Darlington's tenth anniversary summer rep season.

POOLS PARADISE is set in the vicarage of the small village of Merton-cum-Middlewick where vicar's wife Penelope Toop has been enticed by Ida the maid and her boyfriend Willie Briggs into a flutter on the football pools which seem to have come up trumps. Her form has to be checked, though - and that's where the fun starts.

Rev Lionel Toop and spinster Miss Skillon are both dead set against gambling, and there are a clutch of clergymen and another pools coupon to add to the confusion.

Trousers are lost and the inevitable breathless pursuits so familiar to farce lovers ensue.

Ben, who loves life on the stage, plays the Bishop of Lax and, he says, his character has a definite nonconformist side.

"He's an Anglican and he's not as pure as people think," smiles Ben, whose acting career began after graduating from London's Webber Douglas Academy 30 years ago.

"He's quite mischievous in the way he comes across and he's into a bit of gambling, which he shouldn't do.

He's a bit of a lad!" The play by Philip King is from Ian Dickens' stable and is the follow up to See How They Run.

Ben, who has played Darlington once or twice before and has worked with Ian a few times, says it's nice to come back.

Theatre and the stage were his first love, he says, so moving from a long running TV series to tread the boards once again wasn't difficult.

"I've always been a theatre man," Ben explains.

He's joined in the '40s set farce Pools Paradise by David Janson (Allo Allo and Keeping Up Appearances) and Frankie Fitzgerald, who played Ashley Cotton in EastEnders.

"I've done a few farces before and I enjoy them," says Ben. "They're fast, furious, funny and gallop all the way through!" Pools Paradise: Darlington's Civic Theatre from June 30 to July 4. Tickets pounds 12.50-pounds 17.50, details on 01325 486555..

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BEN ROBERTS: He'll swap his copper's uniform for the robes of a clergyman
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 26, 2009
Words:456
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