DREAMBOATS AND PETTICOATS
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 2nd May, 2017
This new production of the hit show injects life into the tired jukebox musical genre simply by taking the increasingly common approach of having the cast be their own on-stage band. Scenery is stripped to the basics on a set adorned with posters, advertisements and photographs of the early 1960s – it’s as though we’re watching a scrapbook.
Of course, the paper-thin plot is an excuse to shoehorn in as many songs from the era as possible, but the bare bones staging gives the show something of a revue feel – scenes play like a series of sketches; the dialogue is snappy and amusing, and all though the entire thing is shallower than a frying pan, it is relentless fun.
The story is framed by a grandfather reminiscing to his granddaughter in an attic. He finds his old guitar and we’re off, back to 1961 and the forming of a band…
Naïve and innocent Bobby (Alastair Higgins) is our protagonist – his solos are standouts. Roy Orbison’s ‘Only The Lonely’ is a particular favourite. Higgins is an appealing lead, while around him larger-than-life characters populate his world. Alastair Hill is great fun as the egotistic Norman, the sleazy vocalist – an authentic delivery, he is matched in vocal skills by Bobby’s best mate Ray (David Luke). Among the girls, there is stellar support from Gracie Johnson’s Donna and Laura Darton’s ‘runaround’ Sue. Elizabeth Carter’s Laura is our female lead, a schoolgirl songwriter with her eye on Bobby – perhaps the most ‘musical theatre’ delivery of the night.
Jimmy Johnston more than holds his own among the younger players as Bobby’s dad, able to knock out a tune with the best of them, and it falls to Mike Lloyd to provide most of the broadest comedy in a range of minor roles. A slow-motion boxing match comes over well, and a duet blending ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ and ‘Runaway’ adds a touch of musical sophistication. Also, a couple of a capella renditions show off the singing talents of the ensemble – as if their musical ability was in any doubt. Special mention to Chloe Edwards-Wood on the saxophone!
The hit songs keep coming – the audience is more vocal after the interval trip to the bar – and the nostalgia is laid on with an industrial-sized trowel in lieu of social commentary. Every other line is a pop culture reference to films, magazines and products of the time – it’s cosy and comforting and a hugely enjoyable, uncomplicated night at the theatre. It’s nice to dip your toe in the warm water of rose-tinted nostalgia but I wouldn’t want to immerse myself in it completely.
Sax appeal: Chloe Edwards-Wood and Alastair Hill (Photo: Pamela Raith)
Leave a comment | tags: Alastair Higgins, Alastair Hill, Chloe Edwards-Wood, Dreamboats and Petticoats, Elizabeth Carter, Jimmy Johnston, Laura Darton, Mike Lloyd, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, review | posted in Theatre Review
ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 6th September, 2016
The title might lead you to expect a jukebox musical but writer-director Bob Eaton’s new piece is all-new, all-original. Well, up to a point: the plot is lifted from Hamlet and some of the tunes are Ludwig Van B’s. Eaton also draws on Shakespeare for iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, which give the show a heightened theatricality and also provide the opportunity for some literary gags. This is Return to the Forbidden Planet meets That’ll Be The Day. Eaton’s tunes pastiche classic rock and roll hits. Performed by a talented ensemble of actor-musicians, the songs have an authentic sound and, unlike some jukebox musicals, the songs develop rather than interrupt the plot.
It’s also very funny.
It’s Britain and it’s 1956 and Michael Fletcher is Johnny Hamlet, returning from national service in the RAF to attend his father’s funeral. His father’s ghost keeps appearing, driving the young man around the bend with his demands for revenge. Matthew Devitt is in excellent form as the murdered man and he plays a mean guitar – often at the same time. Young Hamlet adopts a leather jacket and D.A. hairdo as he goes off the rails, while Ophelia (Chloe Edwards-Wood) rebels against her straitlaced father Polonius (Steven Markwick). Oliver Beamish’s affable Claud reminds me of Boycie at times – and you question if this character could stoop to murdering his brother… Georgina Field’s Gertrude is an energetically common, gorblimey Londoner, bringing a touch of music hall to her songs. Meanwhile, Larry (Laertes) is dropping hints about his own emotional trials (the handsome Joseph Eaton-Kent, cutting quite a dash); and Niall Kerrigan brings a lot of fun to his role as Teddy boy/wide boy Waltzer.
Patrick Connellan’s set evokes a 1950s dance hall, enhanced by the backdrops of Arnim Friess’s video designs. Choreography by Beverley Norris-Edmunds adds to the period setting, although for the most part, the cast are playing instruments while moving, acting and singing.
It’s an engaging, amusing show that proves irresistible, tickling the funny bone and setting the toes tapping. Eaton tempers the nostalgic appeal with touches of social commentary: those who long to return to Britain as it was in the 1950s would do well to be reminded of the unhealthy aspects of the era, from the prevalence of smoking (it was good for you back then!) and the law against homosexuality, to name but two. Also, “everything was in black and white and there was no Radio 1” – Every cloud!
This is a feel-good Hamlet, if you can imagine such a thing. On reflection, I wonder if a different title might suit it better: we expect to hear the titular song but it never comes, although what we do get is more than good enough.
Michael Fletcher as Johnny Hamlet (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Arnim Friess, Beethoven, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Beverley Norris-Edmunds, Bob Eaton, Chloe Edwards-Wood, Georgina Field, Hamlet, Joseph Eaton-Kent, Matthew Devitt, Michael Fletcher, Niall Kerrigan, Oliver Beamish, Patrick Connellan, review, Roll Over Beethoven, Shakespeare, Steven Markwick | posted in Theatre Review