A dream of a show

Dreamboats and Petticoats

Malvern Festival Theatre

*****

Some people love surprises; I prefer to know exactly what I’m going to get. Having written a five star review last April for Save The Last Dance For Me, another jukebox musical from writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, I knew that I was in for a treat.

Produced by Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield, and fabulously choreographed by Carole Todd, this production is a delight from beginning to end, an all singing all dancing extravaganza which had audience members young and old sashaying in their seats and clapping along.

The story starts in the present day with a granddad’s reminiscences of his teenage years and rock and roll dreams in early sixties Essex. The smell of vinyl and feel of his beloved Fender guitar transport him and the audience back to heady days and nights at St. Mungo’s Church of England Youth Club. Wild times indeed! We are immediately immersed in the music and atmosphere of the era, with flashing lights, a full live band playing on the youth club stage (on stage!), swirling dresses and of course, romance.

We follow the complicated dalliances of Bobby, Norman, Ray, Laura, Sue, and Donna and the youth club members’ attempts to find fame and fortune through song writing, or in Norman’s case, pure plagiarism.

The plot is simple and sweet, with just enough teenage angst to interest but not disquiet the audience. The storyline, after all, is primarily written to allow the weaving together of over forty hit songs of the sixties to create a musical journey which entertains and amuses, which it does marvellously. Even the characters’ names are picked to suit the songs (Tell Laura I Love Her, Bobby’s Girl, Runaround Sue) but the production uses humour to revel in any such contrivances.

MERRIMENT

My favourite example of this, and one which produced much merriment in the audience, was when Bobby’s evening visitor Sue (Louise Olley) was unceremoniously shoved out of a bedroom window to avoid parental discovery. Muffled cries and a resounding crash were followed by Bobby’s plaintive rendition of Only The Lonely, the opening line of which is, of course, ‘There goes my baby . . .’

As with Save The Last Dance For Me, this energetic cast is hugely talented with musical, vocal, dancing and acting skills utilised and shown off to excellent effect with no egos on display, but rather an obvious mood of camaraderie amongst performers, taking turns to shine alone or gracefully share the limelight. Hannah Boyce puts in a wonderful performance as young Laura, and performs some lovely numbers with both local boy Bobby (Greg Fossard) and the apparently more wordly Norman (Matthew Colthart).

Special mention must go to the actors who performed flashy dance moves whilst playing their brass instruments, and to Roger Martin who played Bobby’s chirpy dad, and added warmth and dignity to the production. My favourite performer of the night, however, had to be Mike Lloyd, who played a bizarre range of freakish characters including a Southend seaside boxer, a talent show compere and a singing monk. Barbershop singing in a barbershop. Great stuff.

Praise is also due to set designer Sean Cavanagh, lighting designer Mark Howett and costume designer Brigid Guy for making the whole production a delightful spectacle. And whoever had the idea of adding in a slow motion section as part of one of the fight scenes – absolutely brilliant.

It’s not easy making notes in the dark whilst trying to concentrate on and enjoy a production, but as a reminder to myself for when I was writing up the review I scrawled in my notepad, in large capitals, the single word JOY, which utterly sums up this play. Beaming faces amongst cast and audience throughout, the whole theatre up on their feet for the final celebratory medley, and a warm glow on leaving the auditorium.

This is a play for all ages, and whilst older audience members were obviously thrilled with the event, I was curious as to the opinion of one of the younger pre-teen theatre goers I spotted after the curtain came down. ‘What did you think of that?’ I asked him. ‘It was awesome,’ he replied.

Dreamboats and Petticoats is touring Britain now. Book your tickets today!

To 05-04-14.

Amy Rainbow

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