Review: Summer Street at Waterloo East Theatre

The idea for Summer Street: The Hilarious Aussie Soap Opera Musical (to give it its full title) dates back to 2004, when writer and director Andrew Norris was inspired to pay homage to the Australian soaps of his youth, and the stars who dominated UK pop charts and panto line-ups for much of the 80s and 90s. The result is a well-meaning, nostalgic and unashamedly ridiculous comedy musical that’s probably best appreciated after a glass of wine or two.

Photo credit: Simon Snashall

The plot revolves around Bruce (Simon Snashall), Angie (Sarah-Louise Young), Paul (Myke Cotton) and Steph (Julie Clare), four former stars of popular musical “soapy”, Summer Street. All but one have failed to have any kind of acting career following their dramatic exits from the show, so they jump at the chance to reunite for an anniversary special – but all is not as it seems… While on camera one of the characters has to be rescued from an abandoned mine just before her wedding, life behind the scenes has its own share of drama as each of the four actors reflects on life post-Summer Street.

The show obviously takes great delight in sending up all the well-worn soapy tropes, from dramatic deaths to product placement. The on-screen characters are recognisable stereotypes – the doctor with an alcohol problem, the in-the-closet lesbian in love with her best friend, the nosey neighbour – and anyone who knows anything about Neighbours or Home and Away (or, to be fair, any of the UK soaps) will never fail to get the joke. It’s all enjoyably silly and there are some quite funny bits, often at the most unexpected moments – one character’s account of his wife’s tragic demise and the heroic actions of Pogo the neighbourhood dog are highlights.

The problem is that in trying to poke fun at the banality of the soap format, Summer Street ends up suffering a similar fate; the characters are under-developed, the story makes little sense, and several of the familiar jokes are repeated so often that they start to feel a bit tired. The same, unfortunately, goes for the musical numbers, which are for the most part catchy enough but tend to go on just a bit longer than seems necessary. (In Brighton only half of the songs were performed, which says quite a lot about their value within the production.)

The show may have its flaws but the cast enthusiastically make the best of it, and there are some strong vocal performances – particularly from Sarah-Louise Young, who steals the show in Act 2 with pop ballad Chains Around My Heart. The nature of the production calls for larger than life performances, and all four cast members seem more than happy to oblige, adopting suitably flamboyant Aussie accents, cheerfully reeling off lines of expositional dialogue – often at high speed – and throwing themselves without hesitation into Lauren Chinery’s comically stagey dance routines.

Photo credit: Simon Snashall

To give credit where it’s due, Summer Street never pretends to be anything other than what it is: a spoof comedy musical that takes an already over-the-top TV format and takes it up another notch or three. In that sense, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Could it have been done with a bit more finesse? Yes, probably. But as it stands the show is harmless fun, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Review: Things That Do Not C(o)unt at Waterloo East Theatre

2018 is an interesting time to be a woman. On the one hand, it’s depressing to realise that we haven’t progressed as far as we might have hoped; on the other, it’s inspiring to see so many female role models emerging to tirelessly campaign for change.

One of these is Nastazja Somers of No Offence Theatre, who along with Bj McNeill has created experimental feminist show Things That Do Not C(o)unt, exploring themes of body positivity and female sexuality. Following in the footsteps of the similarly daring Torn Apart (Dissolution), this solo show is a bold, visceral and uncompromising hour of theatre that’s clearly fuelled by frustration and an urgent need to speak out, but with a welcome smattering of humour that every woman in the room can relate to. In a twist, though, there’s also an autobiographical element to the show, as Somers looks back on her Polish heritage and reflects on its impact on her relationship with her body. And if all that doesn’t get your attention, there’s also free vodka.

Through a combination of performance – some in Polish – and video footage she lays herself bare, openly discussing sexual encounters and past struggles with self-image. It’s clear from the start this is not your typical one-woman show, as she spends the first few minutes eating a grapefruit with sensual relish, smiling serenely at the audience, and without saying a word. (Warning to the front row: you may get splattered by flying fruit juice. On the other hand, you’re also first in line for vodka – so I’ll leave you to weigh that one up.)

This isn’t the only food to be consumed during what turns out to be an extremely messy show, as Somers examines with increasing passion the conflict between enjoying food (and sex) and the inevitable guilt that so often follows in the wake of society’s disapproval and judgment. And that judgment doesn’t only come from men, but from women too: her mother wishes aloud that she was “a bit anorexic”, other girls at school tease her about her early development, and a disembodied female voice repeatedly brings up the subject of body image, insisting “diet, exercise” is the answer to everything. Yet despite all this, it’s her grandmother’s message – one of positivity and unconditional acceptance – that she chooses to hold on to.

It’s not always comfortable to watch (fish guts, anyone…?), and is definitely not your traditional night at the theatre – but at the same time it’s impossible not to be inspired by the fearlessness, energy and power of Nastazja Somers’ performance, or to feel the powerful impact of Things That Do Not C(o)unt‘s taboo-smashing content.

Also, did I mention the free vodka?

Review: A Nazi Comparison at Waterloo East Theatre

Based on Schlageter by Hanns Johst – Hitler’s favourite playwright – Craft Theatre’s A Nazi Comparison makes some solid points and clearly has good intentions. I really wanted to like it, but an unnecessary excess of drama makes it difficult to see past the tears and shouting to get to the message behind.

Clare is a PR student at UCL preparing for a big presentation, but after one of her lecturers lends her a copy of Schlageter and she falls for a guy at a Grenfell protest, she starts looking into the unnerving similarities between Nazi propaganda and the rhetoric of today’s press. It doesn’t take long for her to realise that if you replaced “Jews” with “Muslims” in the speeches, it sounds very much like something Donald Trump would say. In the end, unable to stomach the idea of joining a PR machine that knowingly misleads the public, she withdraws from her degree course in sensational fashion.

So far, so good. After we’re treated to a short video presentation about the unfair representation of Jeremy Corbyn by the British media, Louise Goodfield delivers Clare’s fateful presentation with genuine passion – and even if it does start to feel a bit like we’ve wandered into a political rally rather than a play, you can’t help but admire her for having the courage of her convictions and standing up for what she believes is right. Unfortunately, her mum (Helen Foster) doesn’t even attempt to feel the same way, and it’s not long before the two are embroiled in a screaming row – not their first or last of the evening – about all the ways she’s endangered her future. Nor is her mum the only one who can’t understand her decision, and soon Clare finds herself living in a squat with Craig (Craig Edgely), the guy from the Grenfell protest. This goes well for a while – the exact timeframe of the play is unclear – until Craig decides group leader Lucas (Lucas John Mahoney) and his strategy of peaceful protest aren’t working for him any more. Cue more shouting and a dramatic off-stage twist, followed by an even more dramatic on-stage finale.

All this drama starts to get in the way more and more as the play enters its second hour. Nobody seems capable of having a rational discussion; every conversation quickly turns into an argument, with people shouting over each other, sobbing, wailing and generally being far more melodramatic than seems necessary. By the end, it’s all unfortunately a bit of a mess, and not at all clear any more what point is being made, who we’re supposed to be supporting or why.

All that said, there are some very touching scenes between Clare and her dad (Thomas Thoroe), who unlike his ex-wife at least tries to understand where his daughter’s coming from. The physical ensemble work is very slick, particularly in the montage sequence (a bizarrely timed comic interlude) and after each scene, when the cast somersault across the stage like ninjas to get in position for the next. And there’s no faulting the conviction of the company; I would just have liked a bit less raw emotion and a bit more rational debate to help me understand what, beyond the obvious Nazi comparison, I was meant to be taking away.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉