Sounds of the 60s - and little else

Carnaby Street

The New Alexandra Theatre

***

TAKE 40 or so hit records from the 60s, scatter them liberally through a simple story and end with a Jive Bunny style party and there you have it – another jukebox musical.

They are fun, frothy and dripping with nostalgia, appealing to audiences of more mature years who can be lost in their own memories amid the songs that were a soundtrack to their youth.

Carnaby Street is no exception, although the real thing had become more tourist tat than ground-breaking fashion Mecca when I first ventured down its streets as a student in London in the late 60s. It was a symbol of the age though, of a changing world and a generation who believed they could make a difference and that they could change everything.

One change from those swinging days, much in evidence in the show, is the need for actors these days to be multi-talented thus we had a cast who not only sang and danced but played all the instruments in the band and no doubt could have thrown in juggling on a unicycle and a trapeze act if required.

It never fails to amaze me just how talented the current generation of actors are. You don't need a TV show to prove that Britain has talent – and how they struggle to do that for much of the time – just go down to the Alex or any other theatre for that matter, and see what those who have chosen to do it for a living can do.

The tale is a simple one revolving around Jude, an aspiring pop star and songwriter, played by Matthew Wycliffe, and the two women in his life. He becomes a star, realises what a nasty prat he has been, apologises and makes up with his girl. And that's about it.

With 41 songs to cram in, there is not much time for anything else.

Wycliffe, who has spent two years in Jersey Boys, has a good voice, plays a decent guitar and looks every inch the 60s pop star as the Liverpool biscuit factory worker who jacks in his job and arrives with his guitar, penniless in London. He's not exactly penniless, mind you, as he brings fellow biscuit basher Penny Lane, played by Verity Rushworth, with him.

Verity Rushworth gives a lively performance as Penny Lane

With names like Jude and Penny Lane that is two songs you would expect to be dead certs but not every star of the 60s has bought into the jukebox gendre and rights can be hard to come by – not that there is any shortage of material.

With 196 No 1 hits alone in the 1960s and a couple of thousand more records to go at, there is still plenty of material to keep this new round of 60s mania going for some time yet.

Meanwhile back in Carnaby Street, Rushworth is best known as Donna Windsor in Emmerdale but here she show a fine voice, and makes the most of her cardboard character in the  two dimensional script.

As they wonder where their next pie and chips is going to come from Jude pulls out his Gibson Southern jumbo - expensive kit for  factory worker - and starts busking. The crowds gather, the money flies in and Jack the Lad, played by Aaron Sidwell, (Steven Beale in EastEnders) wanders past and invites them to come with him to the Marquee club to audition for a resident band there that he not only happens to manage but who are looking for a new guitarist. Hey Jude, luck or what!!!!

Sidwell, who has the problem of having to jumble up every common saying you can think of as Jack, shows a good voice for rock but the first prize goes to shaggy haired Mark Pearce as Wild Thing, a Welsh rocker who lives the rock star life of depression, drugs, booze and rock'n'roll.

He has the gravelly, Joe Cocker of a voice that sounds as if the vocal chords are made of barbed wire and is the front man of the C-Steet band, for Carnaby Street presumably and not a band that came before E-Street.

Into the mix comes Lady Jane, who is a bit posh and has legs that come by the yard, played by Tricia Adele-Turner who not only looks good but has a lovely voice. She managed to look and sound like a child of the 60s and perhaps was one of the few characters we ended up caring about in a plot as thin as Twiggy on a diet.

Then there is Arnold, a slimeball impresario and record producer played by Hugo Harold-Harrison.

Jane falls head over heels for our Jude and when Arnold makes certain demands of a horizontal nature in exchange for signing Jude and the band, Jane reluctantly pays up. When we first meet her it is sex for sex's sake, free love and the Swinging Sixties and all that. By the time Arnold finds his negotiating trump card it is sex very much for love – except it's not with the bloke she loves, it's for him.

Predicatably Jude, who has told Jane to be nice to Arnold to get the contract, is not too chuffed when he finds how nice she has been.

Tricia Adele-Turner as Jane, who had perhaps the best of some very good voices on display

Jane's, and indeed everyone's confidante, is the outrageously gay frock designer Lily the Pink, played so far over the top he probably needs a flight crew by Paul Hazel, who makes the best of a role that is reduced to little more than caricature with the need to cram the songs in.

We all know everyone is going to live happily ever after, it is that sort of show, apart from Wild Thing that is, who doesn't actually live and an entire week's production of Tate and Lyle's Liverpool plant sugar production must have been poured on Hazel's Three Steps to Heaven at the funeral. Perhaps the low point of some more than decent performances of songs such as Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying, Anyone who had a heart, I just don't know what to do with myself and rock standards such as Born to be Wild, Mustang Sally and Roll Over Beethoven.

Drifting through it all is newspaper seller Al, played with a delightful cynicism by Gregory Clarke, shouting out what was happening in headline style along with headlines from the 60s with added comments which raised titters more than laughs, from the Star, News and Standard. A bit of licence there as the Star was absorbed by the Evening News in 1960. The London Evening News in turn lasted to 1980 when it was incorporated into the Evening Standard.

There is plenty of support from a Fender bedecked band – with 60's leads rather than wireless links – with Jonny Bower (lead) Tom Connor  (drums), Mike Slader (bass), Matthew Quinn (guitar) and Dan Smith (keyboards).

The bras section double up as dancers, secretaries, dolly birds, models and anything else with Lilly Howard  (alto sax, keyboards), CiCi Howells (tenor sax and trumpet) and Lauren Storer (Baritone Sax).

Written and produced by Carl Leighton-Pope and directed by Bob Tomson, it follows a formula that has found success in the past and, despite starting to look look tired, no doubt will be used over and over again. The audience livened up in the second half and were ready to get to their feet for the Jive Bunny ending but never seemed to be quite swept away in a sea of foot-tapping nostalgia.

It is hard not to like and appreciate such a hard working, enthusiastic and talented cast, who gave us a fun, fast paced and enjoyable show but a little like tribute acts who, no matter how good, are never quite the real thing, Carnaby Street never quite captures the spirit of the 60s.

Sadly with so many songs crammed in it tends to come over as a karaoke evening, an enjoyable one to be fair, rather than a musical with any meaning and you are left with a street paved with good intentions which never quite delivers.

Roger Clarke

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