Theatre Review: Summer Holiday, Empire Theatre, Liverpool
                          Image Source: ATG

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: May 10 2018
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Summer Holiday brings to life the vintage Cliff Richard musical movie from the 1960s. Here, it is Ray Quinn who plays the central role that Richard portrayed on the big screen, as his Don character and his friends Steve (Billy Roberts), Edwin (Joe Goldie) and Cyril (Rory Maguire) decide that due to the upcoming bad weather and the uninspiring UK options, their summer holiday will be spent on a London red bus (Don works as a bus driver) that has custom features added, such as a shower and beds, and they will travel across Europe.

Well, their target destination is Paris, but along the way they meet a group of singers – Alma (Alice Baker), Mimsie (Gabby Antrobus) and Angie (Laura Marie Benson) – who are meant to be performing in Athens later in the week. After a vocal demonstration and a group discussion, the girls join the boys on what is now an expedition to Athens. In the meantime, they pick up one more passenger, who is initially a stowaway hiding in the shower: “Bobby”.

Bobby, though, is actually Barbara Winter (Sophie Matthew), and she is a famous film star who has gone on the run following pressure from her mother Stella (Taryn Sudding) and, to a lesser extent, her father Jerry (Bobby Crush). It takes a while, and some awkward moments, before the gang discover that Bobby is really Barbara, but by then they have accepted her into their group. Stella and Jerry are busy looking for her, but the increasing publicity means that, once they know she is safe, they want to prolong her absence to make for a more dramatic revelation of her reappearance.

So, we wonder how Barbara will be reunited with her family, and whether Alma and friends will make their big show in Greece. We also see signs of a budding romance between Don and Barbara, and we anticipate what develops between those two, as well as other minor flings that arise between some of the other passengers. Oh, and many classic 60s hits (primarily those from the movie, but also some other entries from Cliff’s back catalogue) are performed throughout, providing the show with a great soundtrack.

There was some strong singing across the board, and the dancing was eye-catching and memorable too. Ray Quinn stood out the most with his vocals, his Cliff-like accent (which admittedly bordered on parody occasionally) and his energetic cartwheels, which made his always-professional and high-quality performance the highlight of the production. Sophie Matthew also does a fine job as Barbara, in particular with a good rendition of Constantly early on, and she is also quite convincing as Bobby, at least within the context of the story.

There were some moments of light comedy to be found throughout, largely coming from Bobby Crush and his character Jerry’s interactions during the search for Barbara. Crush did well as he tried to play the role of a somewhat dim-witted yet well-meaning sidekick agent. As noted, there were plenty of familiar songs, besides the obvious Summer Holiday, we also had Batchelor Boy, Dancing Shoes, Living Dog and The Young Ones.

Arguably the best part of the whole thing was the huge London bus, which perfectly captured the mood of the movie, and allowed the story to play out much more effectively. It was cool to see it manoeuvre around the stage, and its design features were very clever and authentic. There was also a fun scene where the group go skiing, and using “wheelies” trainer shoes to pull off some nifty moves. The security guards who played minor roles at the borders of each new location were enjoyable to watch, and had a musical moment of their own during a wedding scene towards the end.

The finale was a very good melody of songs, both from the show and from Cliff’s discography. The show had the audience clapping towards the end (they seemed a little subdued, and small in number as a whole, in the early going) and waving their arms along to the music. Bobby Crush was given the opportunity (though it wasn’t made obvious) to play an organ on the back of the bus, which I felt could and should have been focused upon more, since Crush is known primarily for being a pianist. Other minor issues concerned the sound early on, which made some songs and dialogue hard to hear, and it took a bit of time for the show as a whole to get going, not from a storytelling standpoint but from an entertainment standpoint.

Overall, though, this was definitely a good show with a talented, varied cast, featuring some great dance routines and superb singing, with Ray Quinn on stage throughout most of the production and delivering his usual professional performance. A strong supporting cast and a classic soundtrack combined with the aforementioned bus to top things off nicely.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good