The Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s five-star production of Chicago last summer was inevitably going to be a hard act to follow. Although it doesn’t reach the same glorious heights, Summer Holiday – Elizabeth Newman’s opening production as the theatre’s new artistic Director – is full of fun and joyfully performed by a multi-talented cast of actor-musicians.
This is a show for all ages; nothing unsuitable, cheesy jokes and romantic liaisons that all end happily for every pair of characters (including the introduction of a same-sex couple, which is a refreshing, modern touch to the 1963 original). The evocation of a past era and the holiday atmosphere, made possible with fast-paced scene changes, carry this rather silly story along. A colourful old-school front cloth opening – depicting not the famous number 15 London bus but a Pitlochry Coach parked outside the Festival Theatre – sets the scene and the location nicely as it then reveals the colourful set behind. The audience will take delight in the cast moving through the auditorium to depict the journey from one country to another, iconic buildings and landmarks keeping the journey on course.
At times, the memory of last year’s production casts a grey cloud over Newman’s debut. Summer Holiday misses the skill of choreographer Chris Stuart Wilson, and the staging of this production, although enthusiastic, is sometimes messy. The 60s vibe proves to be a troubling obstacle for the creative team: although the costume department have sourced authentic vintage clothing, the choreography does not match and the signature moves from the era are missing.
Thankfully, there are no complaints when it comes to the skill of the performers, who ably switch between multiple instruments. A special mention goes out to Luke Thornton, who gives a great rendition of “Move It” with all the moves and riffs. Moving from drum kits to brass to guitar, these triple-threat performers handle the iconic music with aplomb. You will love it.
As Don (aka Cliff Richard), David Rankine delivers the key songs with enormous energy and charm and is a welcome return from last year’s ensemble. A tall, handsome actor from Elgin, he sings, he plays, he dances, and is not afraid to take on a tasteful shower scene and not let the water ruin his quiff. He centres and holds the show. Leading lady Lynwen Haf Roberts as Barbara sings delightfully and matches Don in energy and ability.
Supporting them is a strong cast of newcomers and returning Pitlochry performers; Ali Watt and Wendy Paver both put in strong performances and are matched by the remaining cast. Barbara Hockaday as Stella makes the most of her role as the nightmare mother and gets most of the laughs. This is truly an ensemble show from a hard-working team.
Packed houses and an audience singing and smiling as they pour out into the light evening air suggests that all bodes well for Newman and her time in Pitlochry. This is a real foot tapper (hang on, wasn’t that a number one hit by The Shadows? Perfect!).