Review: Summer Holiday (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)

A site-specific production of the hit ’60s film that starred Cliff Richard

David Heywood and Isobel Bates
David Heywood and Isobel Bates
© Richard Lakos

If you're going to do a site-specific production of the Cliff Richard film, Summer Holiday, you have a choice between decamping to Athens and getting hold of a bus. The Octagon Theatre's infectiously feel-good production opts for the more practical alternative.

The action begins in Bolton's smart new interchange bus station. Don and his mechanics mates sing a few songs, plan to holiday on the Riviera, have fun with some jolly inflatables and get the assembled audience on board – literally, as a fleet of buses arrives for the short drive to Victoria Square via Le Mans Crescent which provides a fair excuse for the constant reminders that we are now in France. A broken down Mini and three stranded members of a singing group Do Re Mi mean that, a quick song and dance on the Town Hall steps later, there are seven young people heading into the Octagon for a summer holiday, with this difference: Do Re Mi has a singing engagement in Athens in six days time, so the target becomes Greece.

The site-specific elements are, in some ways, the least successful of the evening, what with the boomy acoustic of the interchange and the problems of synchronising bus arrival in Victoria Square, but they have a pleasing novelty and put the audience in the mood to enjoy themselves. The much longer Octagon section of the show is full of pace and colour – and songs.

Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan's adaptation, first seen in 1996, is pretty light on dialogue, but gathers in songs from elsewhere in Cliff's oeuvre, notably "The Young Ones" from his earlier film. The storyline is simplicity itself, seven youngsters travelling through Europe, forging relationships and having adventures with comic foreigners, but with one dense piece of plotting: Barbara, an American female singing star, flees her dreadful showbiz mother and hitches a lift on the bus disguised as a boy. Cue international shock-horror kidnap story orchestrated by mama.

Michael Peavoy as Don makes no attempt at being a latter-day Cliff Richard: he's the ebullient organiser and gets the big romantic scenes with Barbara, but the songs are spread round the talented and energetic cast of ten in what is very much an ensemble show. Instrumentally the cast is particularly impressive, with trumpet and saxophone frequently added to keyboard, guitar, bass and drums, all well played. No surprise that three of the actors belong to an all-female rock'n'roll band and several of the men have served time in the Leeds City Varieties' rock'n'roll pantos – the music often has a rockier edge than the rather anodyne original.

Barbara Hockaday and Greg Last have fun as the self-obsessed dragon of a mother and her ineptly well-intentioned sidekick, Eleanor Brown is as appealing as she should be as Barbara and a convincingly unconvincing boy, and all the cast multi-task with evident relish and considerable skill.

Amanda Stoodley's designs – featuring the flags of all nations – are as colourful as Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti's inventive and unpretentious direction and the night I saw it, the audience seemed reluctant for it all to end.