Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Summer Holiday

Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan based on the screenplay by Ronald Cass and Peter Myers
The Octagon Theatre, Bolton
The Octagon Theatre, Bolton
31 May 2018 to 23 June 2018


There are only a handful of good pop/rock films and Summer Holiday is not among them. Still, a musical with few memorable numbers and a thin plot does compel anyone involved in a stage adaptation to make a real effort if they want a success. Directors Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti go well beyond the call of duty to make what may be the ultimate promenade production.

The Octagon Theatre is soon to undergo renovation and future presentations will be staged out and about in the neighbourhood. This sense of displacement and travel has inspired the approach taken to Summer Holiday. Adaptors Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan have made some revisions to the movie script - an openly gay couple and some changes of location - but the plot remains the same.

With a view to achieving a cheap holiday, Don (Michael Peavoy, whose dark good looks and physical presence make for a far more convincing diamond in the rough mechanic than Cliff Richard achieved) convinces his employers to lend him and his workmates a bus to test out whether it would be viable as a means of transporting passengers to the continent.

They offer a lift to a vocal group (Isobel Bates, Robert Jackson and Sarah Workman) whose mini has broken down and later discover a stowaway - Barbara (Eleanor Brown) – a struggling singer who has run away from her overbearing mother Stella (Barbara Hockaday in full scene stealing mode) and gormless agent Jerry (Greg Last ).

The musical is staged at three locations with the audience transported between them in buses. It opens in the new Bolton Interchange where, to the bemusement of travellers waiting for their buses, the opening scene and a few songs (including the title track) are performed. Half a dozen Vision Buses transport the audience to Le Mans Crescent (a punning way of letting us know the buses have reached France) where, at the bottom of the Town Hall steps, the vocal group are stranded, before moving on, by foot, to a nearby ‘nightclub’ - The Octagon Theatre.

It must have been a logistical nightmare to negotiate the loan of buses and permission to use the Interchange and central Bolton locations but it certainly makes for a memorable opening and reflects well on the willingness of The Octagon and Boltonians to take a chance.

Promenade productions require a high level of willing participation by the audience and, if you’re not in the mood, the opening may appear padded. Waiting around for the show to start, the buses to arrive and being allowed to disembark exaggerates the running time of the show. The sing-alongs on the buses demonstrate that the songs are not the best in the musical catalogue as no-one knows the lyrics after the first lines. In order to allow time for the audience to be seated the cast have to play instrumentals rather than progress the plot.

All of the cast double as musical performers and this makes all the difference in the world to the spirit of the musical. Even if the plot may be thin the cast are given a high-energy method of making sure no-one will feel disappointed. Three of the cast are actually part of the all-female rock’n’roll band The Daisy Chains so can be relied upon to belt out some excellent Surf Music. Barbara Hockaday and Greg Last, as the closest the musical has to a pair of villains, get all the best lines and are an excellent comic double act.

Newman and Occhipinti take a back to basics approach to the staging, with backgrounds that look like they have been lifted from a seaside postcard. Scene changes are achieved with cut-outs of famous buildings being wheeled across the stage. Travelling by bus saves cash but is far from lush and it is as if the directors have been inspired by this approach for their bright and cheerful staging.

Summer Holiday will never be a classic musical but this is a production that is hard to resist. Let’s hope the decent weather holds.

Reviewer: David Cunningham


Comment by David Murray

Yes, I very much agree with this review. Outside, the locations are well chosen and the performances fill the spaces. Inside, the actor/musicians allow a fast paced, high energy production that is very engaging. Performances are strong throughout and it's a beautifully put together show. The spirit of the show is completely consistent with the feel good nature of the original.