Friday, 17 May 2019

REVIEW: Summer Street at the Waterloo East Theatre

A show about an axed musical Soap making a comeback, with a live broadcast, which is actually staged by the lead actress/Executive Producer in a bid to create a reality television show about the casts’ lives which have crumbled since the soap came to an end. Confused?

The concept of a musical parody of Neighbours and Home And Away has real potential, but Summer Street misses the mark at almost every level. This couldn’t be further from Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques masterpiece. The book is poor, the score needs work, and the lyrics are cringe-worthy. Don’t get me wrong; the characters are there, and each has their own bizarre storyline and exit (plane crashing into a hotel, deadly virus wiping out the whole town, trapped down a mine), but the text needs to be much more intelligent, rather than obvious and playing for cheap laughs. The famous comedy rule of three only works if a joke is a hit the first time; if it doesn’t the second and third times it is rolled out are painful.

While there are exceptions, a one-man creative team often means the piece suffers from a lack of different perspectives. Here, Andrew Norris has written the book, music and lyrics, and directs the piece as well. He cites Victoria Wood as an inspiration, but even she handed the baton over to the likes of Geoff Posner. The direction here is poor; the pace is slow at times, and several jokes are misjudged or delivered incorrectly, meaning the laughs are few and far between. Without another pair of eyes, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees, and Summer Street desperately needs to be taken back to the drawing board.

There is no band present, and we are instead treated to some pretty awful backing tracks. Unless the productions goes the extra mile and uses technology like QLAB (allowing for vamps etc.) it makes difficult work whenever dialogue falls during a song, meaning the cast has to rush, or we end up with awkward gaps before the next verse, and the playoffs are not long enough, meaning the scene changes are still happening when the music ends. The tracks are fully orchestrated and pay homage to the 90s synth we know and love, but ultimately sound cheap.

Julie Clare gives a pleasing performance as Steph/Mrs. Mingle/Marlene, and ultimately does the best possible job with the material she is given, saving the piece a number of times. It’s clear that she is far better than the text, and I would be interested to see her in another production. Sarah-Louise Young also shows promise, particularly as Sheila, a Susan Kennedy-esque Mother with squeaky, fast-paced dialogue. She shows great variety in her different performances.

Simon Snashall had laryngitis, and a couple of jokes and asides to the audience were added to gain support, and while he did his best, he should have been allowed to perform. He was incredibly unwell, and both his dialogue and vocals were painful to listen to. The producers should be thinking of the bigger picture and should have made changes (more difficult when using tracks) or replaced him for this performance, rather than have him scrape through. He was also far too loud during the ensemble numbers, booming bum notes and incorrect harmonies (he wasn’t the only one), drowning out his colleagues. Paul Thomas’ sound design and the operator are also to blame for this, as well as distorted sound and microphone issues.

This show does have potential, but needs major work. The music, with its throwback feel does make us laugh at points, but the lyrics are a real problem. The Act I finale, “Lucky Plucky Me”, a rip-off of Kylie’s “I Should Be So Lucky” inspires groans but is clever, and Julie Clare’s eye rolls and fake grin sell it brilliantly. If the rest of the score could be improved to meet this, it would already be a step in the right direction.

Review by Ian Marshall

Rating: ★
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