The Octagon Theatre, Bolton; Monday 4th June, 2018
When his friends complain that they are are never going to be able to afford the lads’ holiday that they’re all itching to go on, crafty garage mechanic Don hatches a scheme that can’t possibly go wrong: they’ll all use their professional skills to do up an old bus and drive it all the way to sunny Athens.
And so begins the epic story behind Summer Holiday: the tale of four mechanics who depart their bus garage in Bolton on a very special route across Europe, taking in all manner of sights and adventures along the way.
Based on the 1963 film starring Cliff Richard, The Octagon’s adaptation of Summer Holiday is studded with some of the best-known classic pop songs that literally define the hipster 1960s: The Young Ones; Living Doll; and of course the famous title track itself.
In an unusual twist, the opening scenes take place in an actual bus station: Bolton’s very own Interchange, just across the road from The Octagon. As the hundred-odd audience members cram into a cordoned-off section, the performers sing and dance their way through the opening act, all of it broadcast on the station’s loudspeaker system – much to the disbelief (and delight) of ordinary commuters trying to make their way home.
And just as soon as the four fun- and sun-seeking garage mechanics have agreed to set off on the first leg of their journey, they immediately drag the entire audience along with them – on a fleet of six buses that end up at the steps of Bolton Town Hall for Act Two. There’s plenty of singing, clapping and head-bopping fun along the way, all topped off with the rather delicious pleasure of being allowed to press the bell on the bus as many times as you like without getting told off.
Finally, after having (rather conveniently) picked up a trio of stranded musicians / dancers / singers outside the town hall, the summer holiday journey moves on as performers and audience together make the short walk to the main stage at The Octagon. It’s all quite exciting, there can’t be too many shows where you can stop for a selfie with the actors right in the middle of a performance.
As well as the unusual location settings, the other aspect of this show that really stands out is the artistic delivery. A relatively small cast of ten together deliver all of the acting, dancing, singing and musical performance. Star of the show is Barbara Hockaday in the role of the diabolical diva Stella – a desperate woman in search of fame and fortune for her put-upon daughter, at any cost. Hockaday’s extravagant and outrageous tantrums are genuinely hilarious, it looks like a delightfully amusing role to play and she seems to milk every moment of it to perfection.
Summer Holiday is more than just a nostalgic re-enactment of an all-time classic. Thanks to the innovative architecture of the show and some outstandingly good performances, this is a wonderfully entertaining and amusing night out at the theatre, a charming and relaxing burst of escapism – much like going on a summer holiday for an hour or two.
|Visual pleasure||Always onto a winner with the first two acts of the show taking place outdoors on a fine summer’s evening, the on-stage set was also impressive, with a backdrop made up of various European flags – it wouldn’t look out of place at the Eurovision Song Contest.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||A multi-talented cast, each appearing to take on multiple instruments, as well as delivering crystal clear lyrics in a way that allowed every word to be heard. Difficult to find fault anywhere with the musical performance.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||With the first quarter of the show literally taking place out on the road, everyone was along for the ride. It created a rather amusing sense of excitement for the rest of the performance, which took place in the main theatre. The plot came across clearly and seemed to be set at just the right pace, with the use of songs and music a pleasing and welcome addition to the unfolding story.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Outstanding acting performances from all of the cast, who also showed their extensive musical talents, both in terms of singing and instrumental delivery.||5|
|Overall impact||This is an excellent evening out at the theatre, a night full of light-hearted entertainment based on comedy, it’s virtually impossible to not sing along to the songs.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|