Younger readers may not be aware that, as well as being one of the acknowledged pioneers of British rock’n’roll, Sir Cliff Richard was a major film star in the early 1960s. Both The Young Ones, in 1961, and Summer Holiday, two years later, were massive box-office hits (in the U.K. at least) and, at one point, were seldom off our television screens.
In the mid-1990’s, the latter was adapted, with great success, for the West End stage as a vehicle for Darren Day. The current, extensive U.K. tour is built around the talents of Ray Quinn, well known for The X Factor (runner-up to Leona Lewis in 2006), Dancing on Ice and, lest we forget, a traumatic role in Brookside.
The tale is a straightforward one: a group of London Transport mechanics, led by Quinn’s Don, unable to afford a conventional holiday, are given an old double-decker bus to do up and turn into a travelling hotel. Driving it across Europe, they make the acquaintance of a female singing trio – the Do-Re-Mi’s – whose car has broken down; and acquire a stowaway – Barbara, a runaway American starlet, who is disguised as a boy.
Can they get to Athens, in order for the girl-group to fulfil a vital engagement, before the starlet’s cynically exploitative mother tracks them down? And will romance blossom between Don and Barbara/Bobby?
I had expected the show to be a shameless jukebox musical, shoehorning Richard’s hits in at the slightest provocation, Mamma Mia-style. Instead, the show sticks fairly closely to the plot of the film (the segment with the middle-aged peasant woman is missing, although it is subtly referenced), and while there are several tunes from The Young Ones and elsewhere, a number of unmemorable, non-storyline-oriented songs could easily have been replaced by Cliff classics.
The show’s design, by Steve Howell, is pleasingly low-tech, with foreign locations suggested by backdrops comprising picture postcard collages. The big red bus is impressive, and cleverly deployed; as is the ensemble of dancers/actors/singers, under the stewardship of director and choreographer Racky Plews.
Quinn displays undeniable charisma as the alpha-male Don, commanding his troops with an almost military discipline; and Sophie Matthew is very charming as the conflicted Barbara. The show is almost stolen, though, by Taryn Sudding’s Stella, Barbara’s nightmarish stage mother, in conjunction with Wayne Smith as Jerry, her comical co-conspirator.
Billy Roberts, Joe Goldie and Rory Maguire (as Don’s pals Steve, Edwin and Cyril) provide amusing Cockney caricatures, and each gets the chance to shine individually. Not so Gabby Antrobus, Alice Baker and Laura Marie Benson as Mimsie, Alma and Angie – but as the Do-Re-Mi’s, they do provide several visually memorable moments.
The script, by Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan, contains as many bad jokes as good ones, and the narrative doesn’t always hang together (how did they get the keys back?), but it all bowls along very amiably.
Ultimately, the success of the show hangs on the singing and dancing, which is exemplary, as is Quinn’s authoritative central performance. All were enthusiastically applauded by the near-capacity audience (comprising fans of all ages), after the obligatory, hit-filled encore.
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