DREAMBOATS AND PETTICOATS – Bringing On Back The Good Times
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 21st March 2022
The third instalment of the trilogy but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the other two. It really doesn’t. This one is set vaguely in the 1960s, beginning in St Mungo’s Youth Club in Essex and travelling as far afield as Butlin’s in Bognor Regis, before taking in a selection contest for the Eurovision Song Contest, complete with Kenneth Williams hosting. Well, a cast member doing a cracking impersonation!
Norman and the Conquests get their big break – summer season in a holiday camp, but guitarist Bobby is more concerned about his girlfriend Laura doing a stint in Torquay. Norman’s womanising causes friction, so to speak, with his wife Sue. And Laura momentarily thinks Bobby is at it with Donna, the fitness tutor. But this is a jukebox musical. Plot and character development are sacrificed in favour of bunging in as many songs as possible. Any hint of conflict is soon overcome, and any throwaway line could lead to a full-on production number. Some of the cues are less tenuous than others, but I do find myself wondering from time to time, ‘why are they singing this now?’
The songs that work best are the ones the characters perform, rather than those that are meant to express their emotional state. There are quite a few standout numbers: Hang On Sloopy (featuring some killer guitar by Joe Sterling); an a capella rendition of Blue Moon; Laura’s You Don’t Own Me; Mony Mony…
David Ribi and Elizabeth Carter make an appealing couple as Bobby and Laura, their harmonising in duets is lovely. Alastair Hill is suitably predatory as the womanising Norman. Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his neglected Mrs performs a couple of good numbers but like Ray, band manager and hair dresser (David Luke, also a fine vocalist), has very little to do in this plot that’s thinner than a wafer’s ghost.
Veteran artiste Mark Wynter plays Laura’s manager, later appearing as himself to do a medley of hits including Venus in Blue Jeans, proving he can still carry a tune and move it with the youngsters in the company. There is supporting character work from Mike Lloyd as holiday club manager and authority figure Percy Churchill, who also plays a mean trombone, and David Benson as Bobby’s dad, keen to land him a job in the motor trade. Benson is also responsible for the wonderful Kenneth Williams scene – it’s great to hear the old Crepe Suzette song again.
The script by Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran has a sprinkling of good jokes, bordering on the seaside postcard, but they know we know the dialogue is just an excuse to cue up the next song. The set, by designer Sean Cavanagh consists of posters and advertisements from popular culture, with illuminated signage denoting changes of location. The costumes and Carole Todd’s lively choreography serve up the period, while Bill Kenwright’s direction keeps the performers at the forefront. The cast sing and play instruments live and sound great.
This kind of thing is not really my cup of Horlicks, but it’s cosy, feel-good stuff that’s not going to tax anyone’s intellect, and it’s a fine way to spend an evening in the company of a talented cast, being reminded of some absolute bangers.
Foot-tapping, hand-clapping fun that delivers exactly what it promises without pretension or posturing.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆