Outside there’s heavy cloud, wind, driving rain, drought – and the gloom of economic woes; inside the Wellesley Theatre there’s a show that reminds us of what might, just might, lie ahead. Like holidays in our dreams, ‘Summer Holiday’ is about adventure, travelling, sunshine, romance and escape. It’s also about long-gone holidays in our memories too – nostalgic, quaintly innocent and wonderfully youthful, when ‘abroad’ was exotic and new and foreigners’ ways were oddly comic.
Appealing to a packed house ranging from those who actually remember the late 50’s to those who’ve read about it in history books or watched it on TV at Christmas with their Nan, this show really worked. From the accomplished principals through to the bit-part kids in the chorus the company entertained thoroughly and invited us to enjoy, for a while, a little bit of sunshine.
In the wonderful role of Stella, Mary Lewis almost stole the show, not just inhabiting the part but redecorating it from cellar to loft – her many extravagant costumes deserving their own round of applause. She was almost matched in daftness by Kirk Shepherd’s Jerry and the eight skilled principals who shared the lead singing’n’dancing load. Ollie Redstone is clearly a performer to watch, particularly if he loses the habit of gesturing as if he’s holding two pineapples. He has a great voice and assured stage presence and managed to generate both admiration and envy in the audience in his stripped-down ‘shower’ scene. Hannah Green’s lovely voice made ‘Constantly’ a real gem and, if Barbara and Don’s romance was just a little luke-warm, it might have been due to the weather. Martin Stepney’s Edwin really rocked ‘Move It’ to break open the second half of the show. The two iconic dances of the era – the Twist and the Jive – were there but muted.
In reinventing such familiar numbers as ‘Living Doll’ and ‘Summer Holiday’ the impressive Shaddas, their fellow musicians and the Driftas, all under the pitch-perfect direction of Hilary Wickham, kept the whole show on the very upbeat musical road with their authentic evocation of good ole rock’n’roll.
For a huge team endeavour it might seem unfair to identify one or two outstanding features but, despite lacking wall-to-wall period authenticity – and was it intentional anyway? – the costumes were quite stunning – visually bright and sunny and constantly changing. There must have been a massive wardrobe backstage, a management nightmare that remained unseen. And the buses? They have to be mentioned. Big bus – front and back halves of a full-size-ish double decker – and Mini bus – a delightful model that only lacked the same ability to dance as the rest of the cast – were genuinely impressive, handled smoothly by the backstage crew. One query, though: why create an authentic bus, use a real Lambretta, and then convey a car with a pile of suitcases?
Lighting design bathed the stage in warm sunshine and technicians made smooth transitions, not always the case in local theatre.
To Wellington Operatic Society, thank you for a delightful show. Months of rehearsals and probably not a little stress were rewarded by a happy audience who went out to the dark, wind and rain at the end more than a little cheered.
All photos courtesy of www.shootingpixels.net
Hundreds more photos at the Wellington Arts Association website www.w-a-a.co.uk