I have a small confession to make before my review – I’m not a huge Cliff Richard fan. It’s not that I don’t like his music, more that I think of him more as a kitsch Christmas novelty; rather like advocaat or festive jumpers, absolutely fine in December but never during the other 11 months thank you very much. I know was the British Elvis, a huge star with an enormous back catalogue of songs, most of which topped the charts. But if feels so long ago, I’d more-or-less forgotten that the Cliff of today is the same Cliff of Devil Woman, The Young Ones, and Living Doll.
So as I approached the theatre, my expectations were not that high. Would this feel like a 60s relic, all nostalgia but no verve? Turns out I had no need to worry – the Summer Holiday bus is firing on all cylinders.
The musical follows four bus mechanics – Don (Ray Quinn), Steve (Billy Roberts), Edwin (Joe Goldie), and Cyril (Rory Maguire) – who tool up a red, double-decker London bus for a road trip across Europe. Along the way they rescue marooned girl group Do-Re-Mi – Mimsie (Gabby Antrobus), Alma (Alice Baker), and Angie (Laura Marie Benson) – who are on their way to a gig in Athens. They also pick up young stowaway Bobby, who is in reality pop-star Barbara Winter (Sophie Matthew), disguised as a boy to flee her controlling mother and stifling life. Oh, and there’s also a mime-obsessed Swiss customs official, a crazy Italian bride and her bridesmaids, and Greek goat throwing in the mix too.
This is a brilliant show. Yes there is plenty of kitsch to enjoy, and yes inevitably it is a bit dated in its own rather innocent way (the film predating the 60s swing by a couple of years), but this adds enormously to its charm. The four lads are extremely engaging and have brilliant chemistry, working well as an ensemble but without losing individuality. Quinn is a fantastic leading man in the Cliff Richard role. He gives a very knowing performance as the squeaky clean Don, pitching his delivery perfectly without over-playing into parody. Roberts, Goldie and Maguire are always fun to watch, bringing a terrific energy to their performances. Antrobus, Baker, and Benson are equally as adept with their roles as girl group Do-Re-Mi, performing with great gusto. Matthew, in the role of lonely pop-star Barbara who wants to have adventures, brings lots of warmth and sensitivity to her part, building the character’s confidence and assertion scene by scene.
Marvellous though the cast are (and they really are), the star of the show is the bus. It’s a brilliant prop and a wonderful set in its own right. The framing device of the vintage postcards works a treat too, and pleasingly adds to the delightfully retro feel of the show.
Retro it might be, but it certainly isn’t staid.
This is one of the most dynamic musicals I have ever seen. The cast are as impressive singing and dancing as they are acting, and the choreography is especially impressive. It is also a very funny musical. Executive Director Graham King has assembled a cast that have exquisite comic timing, whether it’s the rom-com aspect (each of the chaps pairs off with each of the girls – c’mon, you knew that was going to happen), the almost Shakespearean bit of cross-dressing (well, actually there’s more than one bit of cross-dressing but I won’t spoil it), the fabulous moments of farce (there’s a shower scene that’s sure to tickle most people’s fancy), or the panto-like antics of Stella and Jerry, Barbara’s grotesque mother and her bumbling agent, played with ugly sister panache by Bobby Crush and Taryn Sudding.
This is a bubbly, effervescent musical, and enormously entertaining. If, like me, you aren’t the biggest fan of Cliff’s stuff, it doesn’t matter – trust me, the songs are brilliant, especially when performed by such a talented cast. Even if it’s a typical wet English summer outside, you are guaranteed a sunny, bright Summer Holiday at the Alex!
Summer Holiday runs until Saturday 16th June and tickets can be purchased here
Review by David Powell