Dreamboats and Petticoats

If a night of nostalgia for the days before the Beatles conquered the world of music and the voices of Roy Orbison, Del Shannon and their ilk came to us via Radio Luxembourg sounds like your idea of a night out, get yourself down to the Playhouse this week. Starring Mark Wynter, a man who really did have hit records in those days – Venus in Blue Jeans, It’s Almost Tomorrow and a whole lot more – and who has had a career as both actor and singer ever since, as a man recounting tales of his youth club music days to his granddaughter, this somewhat underwritten show is really a framework on which to hang some great songs.

Given that it was written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart) we might have expected a stronger plot than we get here; it resembles nothing so much as an old Cliff Richard movie – the youth club setting with our young hero trying for success as a singer with a band, and with the hottest girl in town, and failing with both before overcoming the odds to win a songwriting competition and finding happiness with a different girl. If I’ve just given away the plot, well, that doesn’t really matter, it’s the songs that make it all worthwhile.

The youthful cast makes a fair stab at recreating the music of the era: Shakin’ All Over, Let’s Twist Again and The Wanderer come across particularly well. And they get considerable assistance from the audience, most of whom are only too eager to sing along with their favourites. But if you’re a Roy Orbison fan, well, let’s just say nobody can get close to The Big O.

But it’s the not-quite-so-youthful member of the cast who stands out. Perhaps inevitably, given the years in which he has honed his craft, Mark Wynter is head and shoulders above them all. When he takes the mike for Bobby Darin’s “Things” the whole production gets a big lift.

While the storyline may indeed be trite, there are a few nice comic touches, a youth club visit to Southend sees the introduction of a couple of dodgems and a chance for Norman (Mattew Colthart) to recreate a scene from Grease and Laura Sillet as Donna shows fine timing in her delivery of the show’s most amusing lines. And this is an evening of nostalgia and romance, not high drama, so when at the finale the plot seems almost forgotten as Mark Wynter leads the cast (and the audience) in song after song, well, that’s why we went after all.

Jim Welsh