The narrative is simple, some may call it clichéd. On the one hand, seventeen year old, straight-laced Bobby is on the verge of adulthood and agonising over his love for Sue, the tart-with-the-heart. She, on the other hand, already very much the knowing adult, is infatuated Norman, the bad boy from the wrong side of the track – in this instance Kent instead of Essex, where the piece is set. Soon to be sixteen Laura is sweet on Bobby, who can’t see a good thing when it’s staring him in the face. Not that anyone should stare at Bobby too much in the face as we are told he has terrible acne. It being the 1960s, all of the young folk are obsessed with the music scene. They all want to be the next Cliff, the next Roy Orbison, the next Hank Marvin. Lennon and McCartney have yet to make it big and are referred to just the once as being away in Hamburg burnishing their soon to be pan-globally lauded style. The adolescents snigger about condoms, “Stop me and buy one”, whilst the older generation are homely and always there in a crisis with a piece of sensible advice.
Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, best known for their collaborations as writers of ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ and, notably, ‘Birds of a Feather’ have done better work. This paper-thin story, however, is a great hook for some of the era’s best music. All the great numbers are there from ‘The Wanderer’ through ‘Only the Lonely’ to ‘Let’s Twist Again’ and some forty other songs. There are a couple of good jokes but really the dialogue is just the way into the next song.
The singing is terrific. Stephen Rolly, a recent graduate, has a beautiful voice, which in such a young man is well controlled. He delivers Bobby’s numbers with great aplomb. Louise Olley and Hannah Boyce, as Sue and her best friend Laura, don’t pale in comparison. Olley, in particular, does great work as kind of hybrid creation somewhere between Barbara Windsor and Dusty Springfield. Laura Sillett as Donna, Sue’s best friend and Will Finlason as Ray, Bobby’s best mate offer sterling support. The role-call of principals is completed by the appearance of that old 1960’s rocker Mark Wynter, playing Bobby’s dad and he sings the numbers that made him famous. Of these ‘Venus in Blue Jeans’ still hits the spot after all these years.
The supporting cast are actor-instrumentalists so there is a great sounding band that is supplemented by two saxophone-toting singers, a trumpeter and a trombonist. When they all play together they make a wonderful sound. But perhaps the most enjoyable song was ‘Poetry in Motion’ sung completely unaccompanied by anything except other human voices.
The costumes are period specific and convincing, even if the ubiquitous modern head-microphones strike a jarring note. The set is everything it needs to be. Only the choreography is actively disappointing. The period was full of the most wonderful dancing. One of the perils of using multi-skilled performers is that inevitably one discipline gets lost. In this case it is the dance. People stand and sing, static and wooden. When they do get to move there is a lot of hip thrusting, finger clicking, turning round in circles and not much else. It is a shame.
But it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the evening. Go expecting a great concert and you’ll have a great time.