Buddy (Theatre Royal, Plymouth)

”Buddy”, now on its 25th anniversary tour, proves timeless, educational and as entertaining as ever

Does it count as a full house standing ovation if the whole audience was already on its feet when the curtain falls?

Regardless, the timeless Buddy, now on its 25th anniversary tour, has everyone out of their seats bopping along to oldies but goodies such as "It Doesn’t Matter Anymore", "Heartbeat" and "Johnny B Goode".

And that was after a couple of hours of many of us whisper-singing along.

A packed house and a real feel-good factor despite the tragic story, Alan Janes‘s Buddy is certainly still popular. There are many flaws in the piece and the production (overlong interludes such as the odd leaflet-waving and Petty being quite benign really), but it remains a perennial favourite.

A talented Roger Rowley (sharing the role on tour with Glen Joseph, who here was an unmentioned Tommy) is the bespectacled Rockabilly maverick whose gawky demeanour belies an iron will, self-belief and determination.

Such a tragically short but influential career – less than two years in the limelight – is documented here with the highlights played out.

Ably supported by Scott Haining (double bass contortionist Joe), Adam Flynn (dopey Jerry on the drums) and a high-kicking Joseph, the live music passes muster and more. Sound production was a bit thin, but clearly no one cared – if indeed they noticed.

The second half is more of a tribute concert, as the iconic Surf Ballroom stop for the Winter Dance Party is re-enacted.

Jason Blackwater is a great Big Bopper with an uncanny resemblance to the real thing, but slinky Will Pearce as the fresh-faced but filthy-hipped 17-year-old Ritchie Valens stole the show with "La Bamba" – oh boy.

In fact the whole cast exudes high octane fun and proves versatile, switching between fiddles, saxophones, keyboards, drums, percussion, guitars and trombones with great skill.

Of particular note are violinist Vivienne Smith, who makes a great debut as Maria Elena (and others) and carries the few quieter thoughtful moments well, while Lydia Fraser squeezes every ounce from her role as the Apollo performer.

Buddy might not be on my list of must-see-agains, but I was certainly educated and entertained.

– Karen Bussell