FringeReview UK 2017
Bob Tomson directs a pacey work which co-director and choreographer Carole Todd allows to breathe in without constraint and snappy numbers. It’s sixty-seven minutes each side. Sean Cavanagh’s set must fit into various theatres with a Southend’s fairground at one point. Tim Oliver’s lighting is subtly inventive. Marc McBride’s Music supervision makes the best case for the numbers. Dan Samson has to convince us the sound’s Southend or Essex without blowing the amps. The feel of this is attractively predictable. Cavanagh and Brigid Guy feast us with rainbow costumes. Till October 7th.
It’s back again. Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s nine-year dream Dreamboats and Petticoats returns to Theatre Royal, Brighton with a cast and creatives deserving high praise for creating the lightest touch out of slight narrative. Those who’ve seen it should start marvelling at the musicianship, and those who haven’t will increasingly join in. There was more singalong with this latest production than any I’ve seen. It’ll never be Rock Horror but its opposite, a rush of familiarity: tapping into a time when many of the audience shared these dreams, a boy and girl who meet in music and so awkwardly fall into notes of love.
Bob Tomson directs a pacey work which co-director and choreographer Carole Todd allows to breathe in without constraint and snappy numbers. It’s sixty-seven minutes each side: it doesn’t feel it.
Sean Cavanagh’s set must fit into various theatres; this one slightly constrains, though not the exuberance of Southend’s fairground, with dodgems, big top lights and a flashing night sky as the set-piece to the finale of Act One. Otherwise the wings give on a fluted effect of posters with a large scrapbook at the back showing one or two early cast members. Tim Oliver’s lighting strokes over the set and inevitably the audience, but it’s subtly inventive and does much to enhance the set. Marc McBride’s Music supervision makes the best case for the numbers, and there’s a breathtaking moment when two songs are spliced, a counterpoint of musical brilliance the two singers make their own. Dan Samson has to convince us the sound’s Southend or Essex without blowing the amps.
The feel of this is attractively predictable. Cavanagh and Brigid Guy feast us with rainbow costumes, sheer whites, reds turquoise, cornflower, yellow, and neat dowdy things like caretaker’s weeds and school uniforms.
A girl asks her grandfather Bobby (Jimmy Johnston, also dad Phil) about his times with a Fender, a sparkling electric guitar from his late adolescence, around 1962. He was a pop singer for ten minutes. That’s dealt with straight off at an Essex youth club where younger Bobby Alistsar Higgins is trounced by Alistair Hill’s braggadocio Norman, singing The Wanderer and feeling he’s the part, immediately attracting the attentions of Runaround Sue (Laura Darton) the local vamp. Bobby fails to notice that he’s more talented as a songwriter, braver (as we’ll see) and ha the dvition of a far nicer and more talented girl, Laura (Elizabeth Carter) with whom he strikes up a song-writing partnership.
That’s not before Norman grabs Sue at the Southend fair climax to Act One and shamelessly boasts he’s enjoyed more than 1962 allows in the Tunnel of Love. Gallant Bobby challenges Norman to a convenient boxing ring and surprisingly wins Sue, much to Laura’s chagrin. Naturally awkward moments escaping out of windows in Act Two turn petticoats and laddered stockings topsy-turvy and we near the climax with three pairings only one of which has (Laura’s brother Ray and Donna seems stable love-bite or not. But there’s a song-writing competition, and no-one’s as callow or heartless as you might think.
Higgins and Carter make an ardent fresh pair Higgins starting out with that boyish high tenor that can’t compete with the earthier razzing of Hill’s baritonal sexiness. He soon shows he can sing nailing well, the high-note dreamer riffing off Carter’s originally faux-shrill preppiness that soon soars to high mezzo. They’re both heart-stopping in the split ‘Runaway’ and ‘You’re Sorry Now’ no guessing who sings what, at the climax of Act One. They’re both fine actors but more, they’re appealingly authentic, and seem to enjoy what they embody. There’s aspiration in the true sense; you feel as if the singers look to a future too.
Musical standards come and go, and you’ll enjoy spotting them. The title song is the competition number. Each song-writer plays to the other’s strengths in this narrative. See what you think. It’s a thoroughly smiling period-piece to re-boot.
Just as versatile is the vulnerably boastful Norman of Hill; a fine can-belt baritone with a comic sense of his inadequacy as song-writer (he’s the only one who can’t understand every song he writes is ripped off!). Despite this Hill conveys a basic decency that grimily shines through. Darton as the vamp gets of course all the wrong attention, but thrills to her role and here shows an exuberance and self-parodic sexiness belying her dance skills and light-up capabilities. Gracie Johnson as peacemaker Donna is just as sassy, the brunette who gets on with teenage love when everyone else talks of it, and like the others as well as partner Ray, she can certainly sing. David Luke’s Ray again negotiates cringe-worthy moments as brother and best friend, the role of foil and character neatly shining, as supportive as counterpoint.
Johnston’s fine as singer and melds his voice to a younger self as seamlessly as eh acts tough and tender. He’s one fo these central performances designed to anchor but not deflect, different to the extraordinary Mike Lloyd, luckless caretaker, Slugger the fairground boxer, comically irritable monk (tonsured at a barber’s) and finally toupéd compere at the grand fianel with the most horrific laugh you’ll see this side of 1965.
Chloe Edwards-Wood as granddaughter Daisy and Brenda the tenor sax deserves singling out with Lauren Chinery’s Babs the baritone/alto sax. Their musical deutting might go unheralded. It shouldn’t. Patrick Burbridge (consummately) on lead, Henry Alexander on bass and Joe Ellis on acoustic guitars with Billy Stokes the drummer who finally speaks with a rose, and Sheridan Lloyd and Mike Slader on keyboard and the latter on trumpet too provide the real pop backing and make live music swing – with Andrew Philip Thomson and Stephanie Hackett as swervy supports. It’s a warm, joyous cast, and deserves absolute credit for lifting this always cosy confection to musical art.