Dreamboats and Petticoats, Savoy Theatre, London
Thursday 30 July 2009
It's party time at St Mungo's youth club in Essex and you can go all the way to heaven and back again, just like Yuri Gagarin. The year is 1961, the show is based on a best-selling record album of pretty good rock'n'roll items – Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, Phil Spector, Eddie Cochran, Helen Shapiro – and there's a national songwriting competition to be won.
There's also a review to be written. What can you possibly say about a show that defies analysis, scorns ideas and is so well packaged it would win prizes in a "most attractive parcel" competition? It's just a pop concert with a token storyline of teenagers in love written by the much older gag-writers and sitcom specialists Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.
Did I say gag? Bookish Laura (she flounces off to the coach to read The Catcher in the Rye) tells Bobby, her putative boyfriend and songwriting partner, to go easy on the biscuits: "Just because they're called Wagon Wheels doesn't mean you have to have four of them."
It's not Oscar Wilde, I admit, but people of a certain age will smile ruefully at the invocation of a bygone age edging from rationing and austerity into the possibility of chocolate treats and electric guitars. Dreamcoats is a nostalgia feast aimed at an audience that listens to Brian Matthew's Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2 and remembers daring to go and see Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho at the local Gaumont.
That last adventure took courage, especially if you were under 18. Nothing more daring than a youth club outing to the Kursaal in Southend is on offer here, but the stage lights up like a shopping centre at Christmas time and the kids go wild for each other and their own dance routines. A couple of them go on the dodgems and even square up at a boxing sideshow with the Southend Slugger.
Only a real man – like Cliff Richard, they say – need apply for the last job, and leather-jacketed Norman (played with a good selection of leers and poses by Ben Freeman from Emmerdale) pushes his way to the front. Bobby blows it and Bobby's girl (well, she wants to be) makes a rather pointless general comment: "It's Only Make-Believe."
The idea in Dreamboats is to drive the audience so poptastically mad that they get up and dance in the aisles, begging for it.
Audiences will be pleased to see Scott Bruton from The X Factor bopping as Bobby, Jennifer Biddall from Hollyoaks ruling the roost as Runaround Sue and pert newcomer Daisy Wood-Davis as Laura getting Bobby in a twist again, like she did last summer.
Poor Bobby's got more pimples than his ping-pong bat, which Sue tells him to hold more firmly. "It's all in the grip," she says, with the inflection of one who knows whereof she speaks. It's the one blemish in Bob Tomson's otherwise impeccably innocent production.
To 12 September (0844 871 7615; www.ambassadortickets.com)
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