On paper at least a youth theatre production of Summer Holiday doesn’t really play to this reviewers natural inclinations, more used to wandering about in the offbeat and peripheral regions of the arts. But then I always say that going in to such shows and usually come out making a mental “note to self” to stop being such an arts snob. I also have to remind myself of the importance of such productions, such youthful endeavours are the grassroots of all theatre, from the first taste of being in the chorus to a place to hone your skills to a lead role showcase that will hopefully help you make that transition to a bigger, wider world.
Summer Holiday is a timeless story, the archetypal boy meets girl tale threaded through with hidden identity and Machiavellian agendas but mainly about escapism, young romance and a carefree summer of love. It is also perfect for such a large company with street scenes, cafes and nightclubs all lending themselves to large scale dance numbers and part of the charm of having so many people on stage, and indeed in the aisles, all at once was that it enabled small, silent cameos to be taking place between and parallel to the main plot. Wherever you looked there was something interesting and funny happening.
And for those three people in the world who have never seen the film from which the musical originates it goes like this. Four London bus mechanics, borrow, renovate and drive a bus through France for a much needed holiday. They come to the aid of three stranded singers and later a stow away boy, critical discoveries are made, machinations are thwarted, love prevails, they sing, they dance, they laugh, they cry.
One of the difficulties of taking a story originally made for mass consumption in 1963 and therefore quite broad and possibly dated, is how do you refresh the script and make it spark with a contemporary audience? What director David Ashley and choreographer Maggie Rawlinson managed to do was keep the innocent charm of the original yet make it resonate with a certain modernity, the right balance of nostalgia and modern zing.
Ethan Hughes and Noella Usborne are charming as the main love interests but this is very much an ensemble piece and the rest of the gang get it all just right. The Doh Rae Me’s are fun and sassy with Rae Alexander reminding me a lot of Sheridan Smith and Archie Fisher in the roll of Cyril, played so brilliantly by Melvyn Hayes in the original film, pulled off the comedy effortlessly, one frantic, ranting monologue trying to explain their predicament to the local authorities receiving rapturous applause mid scene. Omolola Funsho as the dominating mother, Stella, was brilliantly brassy and over the top and Jack Mcloughlin was the perfect browbeaten sidekick.
But of course if you think of Summer Holiday, you think of its real main character. A London Double Decker Bus. Now you know that compromises would have to be made in this area and no one really expects a fully-fledged vehicle to appear on stage…. and you think that right up until a fully-fledged vehicle appears on stage! A fully mobile, double decker with cut away sides that becomes a stage within a stage and all credit to technical team for their ability to spin it round on a sixpence, at speed and not hit the scenery.
All in all a pretty swinging affair if ever there was one, packed with classic rock ‘n’ roll hits and great dance routines and it really did take me to a place where the sun shines brightly and there was no more working for…well, an hour or two at least.