For all those who have spent many years wondering, I am happy to be able to reveal that Variety is alive and well and spending its summer in Eastbourne! Sentimental Journey “does exactly what it says on the tin” and transports its audience back to an era when a small company of talented individuals would sing, dance and tell (corny) jokes – providing an entertainment form that, sadly, is all too scarce these days.
The Showtime Dancers – Nick Sheehy, Janine Guildford and Joe Crick – open the show and burst onto the stage with a very energetic and colourful routine to the theme tune from the television show Happy Days and they cover, very well, the fact that the fourth dancer, Lauren Askew, is missing due to a sprained ankle.
The show is produced by Barry Moon and Mike Lee, and it is they who next appear in the show. The setting is the Royal Hippodrome railway station and, sadly, the train that is to take us away has broken down so, while we wait, the station master and “the man from head office” arrange some entertainment to keep us amused – and it certainly does that.
Most of the singing is left to two Stars in their Eyes contestants – Colin Gold, who appears as Billy Fury, and Tracy Lea as Connie Francis. Gold is a good singer and has obviously studied Fury very well. His look, sound and mannerisms are spot on, but he fails to engage totally with the audience and ends up singing at them rather than with them. Lea is much more engaging as Francis and has the audience singing and clapping along to hits like “Stupid Cupid” and “Lipstick on your collar”.
The rest of the first half is a round robin of those acts with Moon showing off his comic ability with a very funny appearance as Max Wall and Lee demonstrating his singing talent with a great rendition of Matt Monroe’s “Walk away.”
Act two opens with another non-stop dance routine, this time to “Blue suede shoes”, and then, as the applause dies down, the stage is set for the headline act. Celebrating a massive 40 years in showbusiness, and still doing so many of the jokes that he started with, is wellie boot-wearing Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket.
For almost an hour Cricket delivers a flawless act. Displaying a knowledge of, and respect for, the kind of audience that an Eastbourne variety show attracts, the humour is gentle, off-the-wall, nostalgic and, above all, incredibly funny. Armed with a suitcase of props, Cricket takes the opportunity to perform some very dodgy impressions, some great visual comedy and, quite unexpectedly, some very accomplished juggling.
This not a lavish production; it is better described as end-of-the-pier entertainment, but this is Eastbourne, it’s the summer and the pier is just around the corner, so this production is in the right place at the right time. Sentimental Journey proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that Variety will always be the “spice of life.”