Waterloo East Theatre, London – until 2 June 2019
There’s a good deal of heart at the core of Summer Street, which carries it much of the way where it intends to go. Subtitled “the hilarious Aussie soap opera musical’, it riffs on those all-conquering teatime TV imports and the nostalgia they now provoke, mixes in a dash of Acorn Antiques’ meta-narrative and underscores the whole thing with the gimlet eye of reality TV. The result is ambitious and sometimes, it pays off.
For me, Summer Street is at its best when it is at its silliest. Shaking its sunbleached hair free, throwing another shrimp on the barbie, and camping it up with the best of them. And there’s ample opportunity for this to happen, as four washed-up soap actors dive on the chance to reunite for a one-off special of their former show. We’re witness to much of their backstage shenanigans and rehearsals and it is here where the spirit of Manchesterford is strongest, sometime hilariously so.
But writer and director Andrew Norris has bigger plans, of a more serious nature, in mind too. So we get innumerable scenes from the show itself (lightened by the fact the guys all have to cover two roles each) plus an unfolding dramatic twist in the tale, with original songs interspersed at arbitrary intervals. It’s a lot to pack into a scant couple of hours and tonally, it doesn’t always have the coherence to hold it all together.
Norris’ songs are decent, appealing even, when there’s an accompanying amusing music video (‘Don’t Give Up’) or the direct pastiche of the likes of ‘Lucky Plucky Me!’ But taken too seriously as in the case of some other numbers, their weaknesses are exposed, a result perhaps of trying to do too much in merging two distinct elements.
Similarly too with the acting, it convinces best when it is having fun. Julie Clare, Simon Snashall, Myke Cotton and Sarah-Louise Young certainly give it their all, gamely whipping wigs, hats and shirts off to distinguish their various characters and recalling the glorious heydays of Scott, Charlene, Bouncer and Mrs Mangel. And ultimately I think there’s more to be said here in how and why British audiences took so fondly to these soaps, rather than the place where we end up in Summer Street itself. Still, it’s amiable enough.