Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh – until 22 July 2017
Capturing much of the whimsy and regret of David Greig’s 1999 play for young people, the younger of the Lyceum’s Summer on Stage companies make a descent fist of Danny 306 + Me 4eva. More than that, they have found a fresh level of fun in the script, pointing up and finding proper laughs for Greig’s more punning moments – where an adult company might have simply gone for the wry smile.
The Danny of the title was the bell hop in a great Scottish coastal hotel in 1929, the summer when Stella was discovered by a big Hollywood producer while her mother was doing a summer season there.
Now, at the long-mothballed hotel with a pack of slick TV executives to shoot some kind of retrospective, Stella is struck by a photo of that time and dreams it back into reality. Her memories of the boy she promised never to forget are set against the craziness of life as the daughter of a hotel singer, traipsing round from gig to gig.
The large company – there are 24 named in the programme but none are ascribed to individual characters – get much of that regret and longing for a time past. They are helped by Jason Dailly’s set that suggests Art Deco grandeur in its lines, rather than its detail, cleverly lit by Jai Morjaria.
And it is in that time past, where the young Stella learns to have fun with Danny and where the crazy staff of the hotel all but bring about its downfall, that the production shines with its sense of fun and revelry in the absurd.
There is a great moment of physical comedy, for example, when Mr Cream the young owner of the Hotel is all but sucked up by an over-powerful vacuum cleaner. The lad playing the role jumps into the arms of his fellow cast members and is held, wriggling as the machine attempts to do its worst.
The whole thing is impeccably timed and not signalled in the least, suddenly he is up there, flapping away in the suction of the machine. And there he stays, for far longer than would seem possible, as director Claire Doyle lets her cast flaunt the fun of the moment.
Such dwelling on the comedy does not always serve the production as well as it might. There are moments where the opportunity to create more character or depth is lost to the laughter.
This is particularly true for Stella’s mother, Queenie, a fading singer who overshadows her daughter, who surely can sing. Queenie’s twilight failings are presented so much as comedy, that the poignance of the situation doesn’t shine as it might, even as her singing is brilliantly off-key – never an easy one to perform confidently.
Written as a play with songs, there is also plenty of opportunity for the cast to turn to the audience and sing out. As they grow in confidence over the course of the production that delivery becomes solid and most tuneful.
It is a technically complicated little plot, going into and out of the past – where time passes. For the most part the production deals with that well, particularly the step backwards and the return to the present.
It is great to see this play revived. It was written for performance by actors and four puppets, and staged at the Traverse with John Tiffany directing in 1999. Some might have balked at it ever re-emerging, but Claire Doyle has shown that it certainly has a future.