Review: Summer Holiday at the Bolton Octagon

Who would have thought that a night out in Bolton could take you to France, Switzerland and Athens? Well that’s exactly what the Octagon has achieved with their latest production; Summer Holiday.

By Manchester's Finest | 6 June 2018

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Part promenade, part theatre production, the musical takes you on one hell of a trip and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Based on the hit 1963 film starring a young Cliff Richard and the Shadows it follows the story of Don, a bus mechanic who decides to persuade his friends to do up a double decker and take them all on a trip to the south of France. Along the way they bump into a singing trio and a runaway pop star, all whilst spending their days belting out well known hits such as Batchelor Boy and The Young Ones.

There’s a few changes the Octagon has made for this adaptation, for instance it’s not a big red bus they hop on but one of the more recognisable blue Bolton Vision buses and there’s a lovely addition of 2 men falling in love, which would never have featured in the squeaky clean 60’s flick.

In another break with tradition the audience meet up at Bolton Interchange where they get a Summer Holiday sticker and wait in anticipation at the bus stop for the fun to start. They don’t have long to wait though before the cast come bounding in with an infectious energy singing their hearts out (much to the disbelief of passers-by who are waiting for the number 47 bus to start their journey home). The reactions to the performers provide a double level of entertainment for the excitable audience.

Then there’s the best bit, as the audience are invited to get on the bus with the cast and join in a singalong as they travel through Bolton Centre lighting it up like never before. Witnessing the talented performers singing and dancing up the Town Hall steps like there’s no tomorrow is a real moment of joy and pure escapism from the sometimes dark cloud of the ‘real world’.

It’s a brave and bold move by the Octagon’s artistic Director Elizabeth Newman to do the show as part promenade – but it works and is a stroke of genius! Why no one has ever done it before for Summer Holiday I don’t know as it fits the show like a glove and gives the audience a truly immersive experience like no other.

Leading the cast and stepping in to Cliff’s shoes is Michael Peavoy who plays Don. Peavoy has a real connection with the audience as soon as he appears. Whilst Don make have been played as a bit ‘cheeky chappy’ in the past by actors, he instead makes him an unsure and slightly brooding character which is far more endearing to watch. Playing runaway pop star Barbara is Eleanor Brown who is blessed with a sweet sounding singing voice which is perfect for the role of the young starlet eager to break free and find love. Her onstage partnership with Peavoy is really believable and a joy to watch play out.

A huge nod must also go to the hilarious Barbara Hockaday, as the ultimate pushy mother Stella. Hockaday hams it up to the max with her dramatic reactions to her daughter’s disappearance. One of the best scenes in the show is when she dresses in disguise as a Spanish dancer and manically shakes a tambourine whilst belting out a song with a dodgy Spanish accent and some side splitting facial expression.

The whole cast are to be applauded for their boundless energy and enthusiasm, each one can sing, dance, act and play musical instruments. As an ensemble they are tight and look like they are genuinely having as much fun as the audience.

By the time they reach the Octagon theatre and take their seats for the second half of the production, there’s even more elements to enjoy. Set and Costume designer Amanda Stoodley has got the tone just right as it looks and feels like you have just stepped back into the swinging sixties. There’s also the clever use of wooden flats carved into iconic landmarks and rolled in on wheels to signify the stopping points the bus passes through such as the Swiss Alps, the Eiffel Tower and the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s totally cheesy and totally brilliant!

Huge praise must go to Elizabeth Newman and her co-director on Summer Holiday Ben Occhipinti for delivering such an inventive production. They have proved you don’t need a flashy production with big names as the leads for a show to be a success, you just need passion, talent and heart and that is what the Octagon has in abundance. Summer Holiday will be the last show to play at the theatre before the refurb starts and in its 50th year it’s fitting swan song to go out on.

This production of Summer Holiday is not just a show, it’s an experience and one which will leave your heart feeling happy whether you are 14 or 84!  Go see it before the holiday is over on 23rd June.

Runs at Bolton Octagon until June 23rd.

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