Book, Music, Lyrics and Direction: Andrew Norris
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours… closer each day, Home and Away; Helen Daniels doing Tai Chi on the front lawn, Harold Bishop lost at sea and the wedding of Scott and Charlene, the Australian soap opera looms large in the collective cultural memory of the late 1980s and early 1990s. And is clearly such a formative influence that Andrew Norris has created his own pastiche tribute, the musical Summer Street which has its London premiere at the Waterloo East Theatre.
Many years after their inglorious exits from now-defunct soap opera Summer Street, three down-on-their-luck ex-cast members are invited to film a reunion special alongside reigning soap queen Steph. As former colleagues reunite, current personal problems and old rivalries create tension backstage, while the characters of Summer Street prepare for a wedding.
Norris’s work is full of affectionate nods to the Aussie soap formula, elaborate scenarios and a surprisingly high number of open wells for characters to fall down. Like the 1991 American film Soapdish and Joey Tribbiani’s time on Days of Their Lives, Norris knows that the real drama happens when the cameras stop rolling, so Summer Street’smain focus is on the desire for fame at any price, as well as the addictions to alcohol and drugs that fill the void when the phone stops ringing.
If that all sounds rather serious for a spoof musical, well that’s the conflict at the heart of Norris’s production – it cannot decide whether it wants to make a serious comment on the fickle system of TV fame or send it all up. This indecisiveness means that the backstage characters are light stereotypes while the many soap opera scenes are not quite sharp enough to be truly satirical. Despite its two-hour run time, the audience isn’t given enough reason to invest in either, making this little more than an over-extended sketch.
There are lots of good ideas here and on the whole, the songs are better than the story, particularly the Act One finale Lucky Plucky Me! a clever and crowd-pleasing nod to Kylie’s breakout hit I Should be So Lucky. Norris draws on 80s pop music in the creation of ten new songs, some of which happen within the soap opera including Don’t Give Upin which the characters Brock and Marlene sing opposing sentiments in a duet about their relationship ending.
Julie Clare, Simon Snashall, Myke Cotton and Sarah-Louise Young play three roles each including two within the soap opera, and while there’s not much to get their teeth into, they convincingly create the world of the story with variable Australian accents. Snashall may be more Phil Mitchell than Karl Kennedy, but Young suggests plenty of nervy desperation, Clare is the tough matriarch and Cotton a surfer dude forced to grow-up.
The one thing soap operas excel at is character investment and dense multi-narrative plotting in each 30-minute episode, but Summer Street doesn’t quite manage to do the same. The 50-hour Improvathon at Wilton’s Music Hall in March was a masterclass in soapy plotting, focusing on developing recurring scenarios that kept audiences engaged. With that in mind, Norris’sSummer Street needs to pick a side, either focusing primarily on the reunion storyline or creating the parody soap opera. Either way, caring about the characters is the key and that’ show good Neighbours become good friends.
Runs until: 2 June 2019 | Image: Simon Snashall: