Stage adaptation: Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan (based on the film Summer Holiday)
Music: Bob Wicks
Director and Choreographer: Racky Plews
Assistant Director and Choreographer: Blair Anderson
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
It’s summer 1963 and everyone is keen to get away from it all, escape the daily grind and the dreary weather, and go on a Summer Holiday “where the sun shines brightly”. Don and his mates in the repair department at the bus depot are no exception, but there’s a problem…a distinct lack of funds. Clacton just doesn’t fit the bill; they want continental sea, sand, sunshine and of course girls. The day is saved when young Don is offered a double-decker London bus ripe for renovation as a mobile holiday home. In record time it’s converted by the lads to boast comfortable couches, beds, even a shower, and they are off on their adventure: France, Switzerland, Italy, look out, the big red bus is on its way.
The film version of Summer Holiday is truly a classic and Cliff Richards will be forever immortalised as the gorgeous Don with the infectious smile and cheeky quiff, but Ray Quinn in the role in the stage musical runs a very close second. His cheeky mates, each with their own wonderful character and quirks, are also brilliantly duplicated by Billy Roberts, Joe Goldie and Rory McGuire as Steve, Edwin and Cyril respectively. Of course, in this type of idealistic tale, no group of Bachelor Boys is complete without a sprinkling of pretty girls, and it isn’t long before the singing trio Do-Re-Me suffers an irreparable vehicle breakdown somewhere in France. Cue Mimsie (Gabby Antrobus), Alma (Alice Baker) and Angie (Laura Marie Benson) taking up the spare bunks on the bus for a ride to their next performance in Athens. The next passenger to join is a little more complicated, Barbara (Sophie Matthew) is being forced into singing professionally by her overbearing mother Stella (Taryn Sudding), but with a bit of cross-dressing she escapes and rocks up at the bus as young lad Bobby needing a lift. There is a brilliant scene with Don in the shower on the bus asking Bobby to hand him a towel, and wriggling into immaculately white y-fronts as he sings about how he’ll always be a Bachelor Boy. Bobby doesn’t know where to look…
There are brilliant singing and dancing scenes as the bus wends its way across Europe; the energetic and talented young cast members really giving it their all, a credit to their choreographers. The singing can never really equal the quality of the original film, but enthusiasm and sheer joie de vivre more than makes up for any shortfall. Tracks such as Gee Whizz, It’s You, Constantly, I Could Easily Fall in Love with You, Move It and Living Doll evoke so many feel-good emotions that it is impossible not to be swept along in the holiday mood.
The scenery is simple – slide in flats are covered by blown-up prints of postcards from abroad that everyone in the 1960s proudly sent to loved ones back home. There’s Rome, Lucerne, Paris, Tuscany, St Tropez, and everywhere in between. But the stage is dominated by the full-size red London double-decker bus, which rotates to show its comfortable interior recreated as a holiday home. The cab looks fully functional and the lads take it in turns to drive, and there’s even the little authentic touch with adverts of the time on the panels – “Dolcis for a world of shoes at your feet” and “BEA Europe’s foremost airline”. The costumes are typical of the late 1950s / early 1960s, with beautifully coloured flared dresses for the girls and casual shirts and crisp chinos for the boys. It is tempting to wonder though, how did the girls get all those lovely clothes in the small suitcases they joyfully swing onto the bus as they dance into the lives of the boys?
As in all fairy tales the ending is happy, funding materialises for the bus to carry on touring, and all the young people look set to live happily ever after as they should. The final medley of Cliff songs On the Beach, Do You Wanna Dance, In the Country, Dancing Shoes, and the like, gets everyone up on their feet singing and dancing as if they’re The Young Ones on a summer holiday without a cloud on the horizon.
Try it, this is pure escapism to a world that has largely disappeared for most of us now but is always worth revisiting and recreating that sense of utter freedom, adventure and contentment.
Runs until Saturday 4 August 2018 | Image: Contributed