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.