Review: Summer Holiday at the Orchard Theatre

Long before the Inbetweeners movie was even thought of, there was Summer Holiday, the classic 1963 film in which Cliff Richard and The Shadows enjoyed a far more innocent – but apparently just as action-packed – European adventure. I suppose it was only a matter of time until someone made a stage version of the film, and it’ll come as no surprise that Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan’s musical works, for the most part, very well.

The story is pretty simple, and very much of its time. Four lads (Ray Quinn, Billy Roberts, Joe Goldie and Rory Maguire) driving through France in a red London bus happen upon three gorgeous girls (Gabby Antrobus, Alice Baker and Laura Marie Benson) with a broken down car, and gallantly offer them a lift to their singing engagement in Greece. On their way to Athens they pick up various other damsels in distress, including a sobbing bride-to-be who’s late for her wedding, and runaway singing starlet Barbara (Sophie Matthew), who’s fled from her overbearing mother and agent (Taryn Sudding and Wayne Smith) in search of a simpler life. Not at all surprisingly, despite the best attempts of Barbara’s mum to put a spanner in the works, they make it to Greece in time, and everyone pairs off neatly, falls in love and lives happily ever after.

What the show lacks in originality (and political correctness), it fortunately more than makes up for in sunshiny entertainment value. Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, it’s a feel-good ride crammed with slick dance numbers and a catalogue of classic hits including Living Doll, Do You Wanna Dance and Bachelor Boy, concluding with an extended and very well-received singalong medley of Cliff songs.

All of this is performed by a multi-talented all-singing, all-dancing cast whose energy and perkiness never flag – but as good as they certainly are, the stage really belongs to leading man Ray Quinn. Not only does he do a pretty accurate Cliff impression but his vocals are spot on, he’s a fantastic dancer, and he has no problem at all charming the pants off everyone in sight (himself included, at one point).

Lads’ holidays having “evolved” slightly since the 1960s, the show naturally feels rather tame to a 2018 audience – although the various excruciating attempts of the British characters to communicate with their European hosts remind us that some things (sadly) never change. It may not be the most memorable story, but it’s hard to fault the show in terms of performance – and as the evenings begin to draw in, anything that makes the summer last that little bit longer is just fine by me.

Review: The Wedding Singer at the Orchard Theatre

The Wedding Singer‘s first show at the Orchard Theatre had the ultimate happy ending last night, when a member of the audience got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend live on stage. Still, even without that added bonus, you’d have to be a pretty hardened cynic not to come away from this show feeling a little bit in love with love. (And this from someone who by the interval was identifying most with the song about how rubbish it is to be single at a wedding.)

Based on the movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, this is the story of Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns), a wedding singer who loves helping happy couples celebrate their big day. But then his own fiancée Linda (Tara Verloop) jilts him at the altar and suddenly Robbie’s not so keen on romance any more – until he becomes friends with, and inevitably falls for, waitress Julia (Cassie Compton). The only problem is, Julia’s just got engaged to sleazy Wall Street banker Glen (Ray Quinn), while her cousin Holly (Roxanne Pallett) has her eye on Robbie. A brief spell in a dumpster, a trip to Vegas and one wildly inappropriate granny dance later, can true love win out?

Photo credit: Darren Bell

Fans of the movie won’t be disappointed, as the musical is pretty faithful to Tim Herlihy’s story, with just a bit of a tweak at the end – and it even includes a couple of original songs sung by Adam Sandler in the film, though the majority of the musical numbers are new, written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin for the stage. It’s a catchy score, with a good balance of big dance numbers and soaring ballads, a smattering of so-bad-they’re-fabulous lyrics (“oh Linda you make me feel… like a furtrapper clubbing a seal”) and enough of an 80s flavour to help us over any disappointment at not hearing all the classic tunes from the movie.

And it’s not just the music; 80s-inspired set, costume and script mean this is very much a nostalgia trip in every way for those of us old enough to remember that far back. After enjoying clips from retro movies before the show, a brief ride in the DeLorean transports us back to 1985 and a world of big hair and even bigger mobile phones, where Starbucks is just thinking about going national and the height of ambition for any musician is to work with the same guys as Bon Jovi.

Photo credit: Darren Bell

Jon Robyns leads an impressive cast (and a particularly hard-working ensemble) with a performance so engaging he has the audience half in love with him within minutes, so that when he gets his heart broken and goes to the dark side, his self-pity is endearing rather than annoying. Ray Quinn is suitably obnoxious as Robbie’s love rival Glen, really coming into his own in Act 2 with a show-stealing dance number that’s just one example of Nick Winston’s brilliant choreography. Cassie Compton’s Julia is sweetness personified, and both she and Roxanne Pallett as Holly impress with their powerful vocals, while Ruth Madoc – who the 80s kids among us will remember from Hi-de-Hi! – makes a welcome but all-too-brief appearance as Robbie’s grandma Rosie.

There’s so much to enjoy about The Wedding Singer – it’s funny, with a great cast (shout-out also to Ashley Emerson and Samuel Holmes as Robbie’s bandmates), toe-tapping tunes, engaging characters and a classic rom-com storyline that means you’re pretty much guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face – even if you don’t get to witness a marriage proposal – and reminiscing fondly about the good old days.

The Wedding Singer is at the Orchard Theatre until 25th March.