Remember Summer Holiday? It was 1963 when a fresh-faced Cliff Richard first led his mates across Europe in a big red double-decker.
At the Royal Hippodrome Theatre in Eastbourne last week, the Rattonian Youth Group were back on board – and what a wonderful journey!
It is a carefree show that brims with foolish youthfulness.
A half-baked plan, a tatty map and a pack of egg sandwiches, and you finish up in Greece. They’d never get past the risk assessment stage these days, but heck, musical theatre is not always hindered by grim realism.
The naivety and the sense of adventure are beautifully captured in story, song and acting.
The Summer Holiday score isn’t exactly Rodgers and Hammerstein, and while one or two numbers now sound quite trite – the writing, not the performing – it is perfect for a bright, youthful company, and under the brisk baton of MD Rob Cousins the jaunty lyrics and music never flag. Alex Adams’ hands-on direction deliciously teases out all the comic moments and the whole show wears a smile on its face.
There is excellent symmetry, as well as chemistry, between the leads. As Don, Ben Williamson takes up the iconic Cliff role with lilting voice, sunny character, even a neat quiff hairstyle.
But the breezy, engaging performance is still his own.
Opposite him, Eliza Hackett is assured and confident as Barbara, the heiress on the run. Her singing voice is rich, expressive and mature beyond her years, and her Young Ones duet with Don is a stunning highlight.
Climbing aboard with Don, Ilias Romnaki, Alex Dry and Oliver Message interact with likeable humour and terrific timing. Recently broken voices can have rough edges, but these young men sing clearly and with a freshness that matches the music.
The trio of hapless lasses, rescued from a French roadside by our heroes, are a riot, sharing everything including a brain.
Grace Allen’s Angie is “sarf London” sassy, Amie Woodgate is a hilariously gormless Alma and Becka Wyatt has dumb blonde Mimsie perfectly nailed. And when these three sing, we are blown away by their immaculate blend and command of the harmonies.
There are cracking cameo roles all over the place, and Lara Davis and Rhys Clarke are outrageously funny as Barbara’s parents.
The Rattonians never lower their standards.
Youth group newcomers are treated no differently from old hands: you work until you’ve got it right, and you never accept second-best. Quite simply, it is professionalism, and it is threaded through this production. A three-minute number on stage will have taken three hours on a few successive Sunday mornings. Perspiration plus inspiration.
The dance numbers are just phenomenal. Using every square inch of the Hippodrome stage, Debbie Hackett draws incredible, immaculate routines from the entire ensemble. It’s disciplined without ever being long-faced: these young people have exuberance and energy to spare, and the audience is swept away.
Set and staging are unfussy, with the atmosphere and local colour created by splendidly dressed company and enhanced by Megan Stanfield’s bright and sunny lighting.
This is a show that radiates primary colours – in fact, it’s a show that simply radiates. Yet another Rattonians triumph! By Kevin Anderson.
The Young Rattonians group was established in 1984 and produces a show every year - for more info go to www.rattonians.com