Ray Quinn heads up a stage revival of classic Cliff Richard vehicle Summer Holiday — crossing the country in the iconic double-decker bus and stopping off at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 4 August.
The show introduces us to Don and his pals who work in the London Transport mechanics facility. It’s a miserable summer in Blighty, so Don persuades his employers to lend him a double-decker bus for the season, with a view to touring sunny Europe with his crew. On their travels, they come across a trio of girls who join the company on an extended tour to Greece. It looks to be the perfect summer holiday until they pick up a strange young boy on the run, who isn’t all he seems…
Packed with chart-toppers from Cliff and The Shadows, including Summer Holiday and Living Doll, this musical carries plenty of rockabilly heritage in its luggage rack. Robert Wicks’ playful musical direction offers a big band brass scale combined with electric guitars and punchy percussion, evoking the era’s transition from late Fifties’ swing into early Sixties’ rock.
Some songs are less well known, providing an uneven compilation of numbers, yet they’re all seized upon with vim and vigour. We Say Yeah, a latter Sixties smash for Cliff, is the central toe-tapper and resurfaces throughout the show; bringing together the full cast in a well-choreographed routine which showcases dynamic vocals and energetic moves.
The real issue with this show is its lightweight staging. Summer Holiday is a road trip voyage across Europe, yet we never get any real impression of arriving at an exciting location. Pitched against a consuming black backdrop, there’s little sense of place save for some verbal signposting from characters with generic European accents. Compounded with some bemusing lighting cues – some performers are underlit whilst others bake under blue washes for no apparent reason – Summer Holiday looks less like a summer adventure and more like a metaphysical cruise through the vacuum of deep space. Perhaps this was an off night, or maybe a compromise was agreed: build a big bus or have lots of projected scenery — but not both. Either way, the production loses out on some much needed technical spectacle.
This all puts more pressure on the cast to overcome the visual limitations and bring some scope and urgency to the space. With little dressing on stage except for a well-rendered, yet sluggishly animated two-thirds scale London bus, the cast bravely compensates with some impactful performances.
Ray Quinn is the standout and ably carries the show with an excellent vocal, gently mirroring Cliff Richard’s intonations in song, complete with some spiffing received pronunciation. Combined with Sophie Matthew’s songbird vocal as runaway starlet Barbara, there’s genuine sparkle between the leads with much to be enjoyed in the scenes where they converge.
Supporting highlights include Rory Maguire in a hyperactive turn as the hapless Cyril, whilst Joe Goldie delivers some genuinely funny capers as Edwin. William Beckerleg gets to wheel out some brilliantly daft accents which come straight out of a Fifties’ Ealing comedy.
For a technicolor road trip adventure, Summer Holiday lacks the scale and saturation which the film so vividly pictured. Offering some fun numbers and the occasionally energetic dance routine, this somewhat under-furnished musical feels a little incomplete, yet it compensates with charm, strong leading performances and a vibrant musical arrangement. An upbeat and cheerful journey through some of the classic pop hits of the period, this show radiates enough sunshine to brighten up your summer holidays. Jump on board and give it a go.
Cast: Ray Quinn, Alice Baker, Billy Roberts, Gabby Antrobus, Joe Goldie, Laura Marie Benson, Rory Maguire, Sophie Matthew, Taryn Sudding, Adam Crossley, Becky Bassett, Caroline Bateson Director: Racky Plews Writers: Ronald Cass & Peter Myers, adapted by Michael Gyngell & Mark Haddigan Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Dates: Monday 30 July – Saturday 4 August 2018.