Theatre review: Summer Holiday, Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Summer Holiday at Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Summer Holiday at Pitlochry Festival Theatre
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At this time last year, Pitlochry Festival Theatre was vamping and sashaying its way through the first performances of its 2018 opening musical, Chicago. It was a glittery, impressive, Broadway-style affair, featuring more than two dozen actors and musicians. The problem, though, was that it seemed to amount to a lot of glitz, glamour and effort, signifying nothing much; and in many ways this year’s opening show – the first of Elizabeth Newman’s new artistic directorship at Pitlochry – could hardly provide a greater contrast.

Summer Holiday, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ****

Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan’s stage adaptation of the much-loved 1963 Cliff Richard film Summer Holiday is a musical, without a doubt; it features a playlist of no fewer than 18 songs, ranging from pure British rock ’n’ roll to starry-eyed ballads, and featuring hits like The Next Time, Bachelor Boy and Summer Holiday itself.

Its style, though, is so much more casual, so much more like a high school musical and less like a West End show, that those who valued Pitlochry’s high-end aspirations are bound to be disappointed; while those who like their theatre casual, cheerful, and slightly self-mocking, will warm to Summer Holiday as a much more likeable and accessible show. Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s production begins in 1960s Pitlochry, where a bunch of young mechanics working for the town’s legendary Elizabeth Yule bus company solve their holiday budget problems by borrowing a bus.

Cue a merry jaunt across a then-unfamiliar Europe signalled by the jumble of giant flags that make up the set, and a story of young love as jolly as it is insubstantial, as runaway singing starlet Barbara – an engaging Lynwen Haf Roberts – disguises herself as a boy and joins our lads, led by the charming and talented David Rankine as Don, in a bus party already augmented by a stranded British singing trio.

There’s also a 21st century touch of gay romance, and some feeble comedy from Barbara’s rampantly ambitious mother and her camp agent. Mostly, though, there are just fine 1960s pop songs strikingly well performed by a gifted 12-strong cast who also double as musicians; and, for the now elderly audience who were teenagers in 1963, a poignant reminder of a time when hope for the future was all-pervasive, when the momentum of history was pushing us towards Europe rather than away from it, and when the young ones still imagined that once they were in charge, a better world would be their to deliver, with a smile and a song. - Joyce McMillan

In repertoire at Pitlochry until 5 October.