Bridge House Theatre, London – 23 December 2018
You can’t get more festive than a close harmony guy group, their clean-cut hair Brylcreemed back, cheesy grins on their angelic faces and wearing vibrant tartan suits, singing carols and Yuletide classics underneath the mistletoe.
The twist in Plaid Tidings at London’s Bridge House Theatre is, of course, that the stars are dead, killed in a car crash. But when has a trivial mishap like that ever stopped a group from still making it big?
Plaid Tidings is a seasonal revamp of the original 1989 popular, feel-good cult musical Forever Plaid and, it has to be said, writer Stuart Ross hasn’t exerted himself in coming up with a new plot. It was already wafer thin and this warm-hearted, follow-up production is nothing more than a blatant attempt to woo the audience with gooey nostalgia and…it works.
You can’t help but like Plaid Tidings. It’s endearing and utterly schmaltzy, the theatrical equivalent of slipping on a Christmas sweater, breaking open the egg-nog and sitting down to watch festive re-runs of Morecambe and Wise, Perry Como, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and, god forbid, Van Doonican.
What works against it is that it is unashamedly American and is set in that country’s golden age of innocence and naivety, the 1950s and 60s, when life seemed simpler and groups regularly stormed the charts with a bit of doo-wap and the odd sha-boom.
It is about as slushy as they come but The Plaids – Kris Marc-Joseph as anxious lead singer Frankie; Alex Bloomer as the joker of the pack, Sparky; Joshua Da Costa as the brains, Smudge, and Laurie Denman as the nervous keyboard player Jinx – are a likeable bunch and a delight to listen to.
The group died in a collision with a bus filled with Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles’ American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
But they’ve been given another Get Out Of Heaven card to come down and spread joy and happiness here on earth by performing the set that they never managed to play when they were alive.
They find themselves in front of an audience at the Bridge House Theatre, in somewhere called Pange (“It sounds posh”, says one), in South London, and, at first, they’re unsure as to why they’re here.
“Hey, you guys, I see live people!” says a worried Jinx.
This time around the playlist has been modified to include more than 35 familiar Christmas tunes – from well known carols to pop songs, and even a rather odd hip-hop version of a classic.
And a highlight for me was hearing the Christmas bells played to perfection. It seems to sum up the sound of Christmas and will definitely earn The Plaids some celestial brownie points.
The pace is frenzied as the guys rip through the musical numbers. “Once we start, we can’t stop or we will be doomed forever!” warns Smudge.
Plaid Tidings references their hero, Perry, of course, with director Guy Retallack cleverly using vintage TV footage from one of the star’s Christmas Specials for the group to accompany.
And the gang even get some spiritual help from another favourite, Rosemary Clooney.
It is cosy, sugary and homespun but an entertaining way to spend a evening and a great opener to the Christmas season.
The foursome have terrific voices and ooze charm, you could listen to them all night, but a bit more depth to the plot wouldn’t go amiss.
I thought we were on to something when Smudge had a few minutes alone on stage and began to get introspective about early fake Christmases played out with divorced parents.
But that is as near to character development and story as the show gets.
So don’t expect a deep plot or meaningful dialogue. Instead, just sit back and let the warmth of saccharine-coated sweetness work its magic. Hey, it’s Christmas after all. Yo, ho, ho.
Plaid Tidings runs until December 23 and tickets are selling fast.
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