It is 55 years since a fresh-faced, young Cliff Richard burst onto cinema screens driving a red London Bus across Europe in Summer Holiday. The film was packed with hit songs that have become favourites for any Cliff fan ever since. Adapted for the stage in the 1990s, the zany, light-hearted story of bus mechanics taking the ultimate driving holiday across the continent, picking up girls and stow-aways en route; has delighted audiences for over half a decade and its popularity showed little sign of slowing down for the most of the audience of the current UK Tour at the Alexandra Theatre Birmingham last night.
Boasting a lively score packed with hummable songs, it is easy to see why the show works. Hits such as Do You Wanna Dance?, Bachelor Boy, Living Doll and (of course) Summer Holiday follow one after another and you certainly walk away from the theatre with a tune or two rolling around your head. Musically-speaking, the show is more than ‘just a jukebox musical’ and should be the perfect choice for a light summer’s evening entertainment.
It is unfortunate then that this particular production of the show falls short. Amongst the many audience members dancing and humming along, the number of those not returning to their seats in the second half was very noticeable. For while the young cast were evidently giving everything to the energetic routines, beneath the smiley surface there was little substance to the production values and everything hinted more towards a production company trying to turn a profit on a shoestring budget by filling otherwise ‘dark’ summer venues, rather than a team financially invested in producing a high-quality product. Admittedly, the big red bus looks impressive as it rotates around the stage; though it does limit the staging to a lot of people looking out of windows, and it appears that the budget has been focused here and on star casting, rather than on the finer details of sourcing appropriate props and costumes for the period.
In the driving seat as bus mechanic Don , TV favourite Ray Quinn is the perfec t look-alike and sound-alike for the ‘Cliff Richard’ role. His voice is perfectly-suited to bring out the best in the score and his numbers are certainly highlights of the evening. However when the music stops and the story unfolds, any credibility is lost under a forced posh accent that would seem better placed in a Jeeves & Wooster play than in a mechanic’s garage. Why he could not retain his own Liverpudlian accent – and with it his signature cheekiness which this role would benefit from – is beyond me.
Sadly, it is the lack of natural acting ability across the company that mars this production. Even the worst scripts can be made believable in the right hands, but here is a relatively good script that is poorly delivered and with characterisation that just seems forced. There are points where the wooden delivery of punch lines and some terrible European accents verging towards offensive stereotyping make for some very uncomfortable viewing.
It is obvious that Director/Choreographer Racky Plews’ skill lies more in the dance arena. The show is over-flowing with lively routines and it is here that the company shine. I suspect that it is these routines, coupled with the well-known score which will keep this production trundling along between venues this summer, however if you are looking for something that takes you on more of an artistic journey then this is perhaps not the route for you.
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