Put on a smile and join bus-driver Don and his three cockney mates as they drive off in a bus for a week or two of summer fun on the continent. If only... this production had me desperate to get off long before my stop!
Maybe it's the plot, or absence of it. Maybe it's the script, littered as it is with lame puns:
'I need a break.'
'It's next to the gearstick.'
Maybe it's Darren Day himself. It's okay to sound like Sir Cliff, Dazza, but you didn't need to go the whole hog and remove all residue of personality.
The rest of the cast might just as well have taken the tube, for all they are allowed to impact proceedings. Don's bus-driving mates - Steve, Cyril and Edwin - are cloned into a vest and chest boy band with radio mics plastered to their cheekbones. The girls are equally indistinguishable, with the exception of Clare Buckfield who, as Barbara/Bobby, has a bit more room for manoeuvre and a notable voice.
Hilary O'Neil and Ross King attempt to salvage the show through pantomime. King, thank goodness, knows how to work an audience. While you can sense Darren Day's relief as he ticks off another song, you'd be hard put to drag the improvising King into the wings. But O'Neil and King are pulling against the essential straightness - Cliffness? - of this show.
Even the songs can't save it. Well, the tunes might be catchy, but the lyrics of 'In the Country', 'The La La La Song' and even 'Summer Holiday' do little to deepen the characterisation or accelerate the action.
If it's summer fun you're after, check out Grease at the Cambridge Theatre. The tortuous mess that is Summer Holiday might just have worked if allowed the sort of camp workover accorded to Grease. But the producers here decided to play it straight. Perhaps they feel it's respectful to this time-capsule of the pre-Beatle era. It seems to me they'd have done better to just leave it dead and buried.
Summer Holiday runs til 20 September at Labatt's Apollo before going on national tour.
Justin Somper, July 1997