Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Grease

Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Empire Theatre, Sunderland, and touring
(2004)

Tonight I felt like the ultimate party-pooper!

The packed house at Sunderland's Empire Theatre (and I mean packed - it was literally standing room only) was buzzing and erupted into loud applause, even cheering, as the lights went down. The overture was greeted with equal enthusiasm and clapping along with the beat. And so it went on throughout the show. The audience - a good mix of adults and kids - was here to have a good time, and by God, they did.

It wasn't what I would call a theatre audience, but they were certainly Grease fans, either from seeing the film (probably many, many times) or from having done it as a school show (like Joseph, it is a staple school production). They certainly knew the words of the songs (or of the most well-known of them) and there was an undercurrent of (more or less) quietly singing along - Summer Nights, Greased Lightnin', We Go Together and You're the One That I Want had most of the audience joining in - and clapping to the beat (even in Hopelessly Devoted to You - weird!).

So how am I a party-pooper? Because I just don't like the show, probably the only person in the entire audience of around 2,000 who didn't. Yes, I enjoy the music but - and feel free to accuse me of over-sensitivity here - the message "if you want to get a man, be a slag" does turn me off. To get her man, Sandy has to become his idea of what a girl should be, a true reflection (perhaps) of the 50s, but already outdated in 1971 when the show was written. Admittedly, in this production director David Gilmore and actor Ben Richards (Danny) do make much more of Danny's insecurity than John Travolta did in the film, which makes the whole relationship thing a tad more palatable, but I have to say that I still find it hard to swallow.

I'm even willing to accept that my response is inappropriate. After all, it's just a bit of light entertainment: why treat it like it's Shakespeare? Perhaps it's the old schoolteacher in me rearing its ugly head. I really was willing to be converted and this production did go some way towards meeting my concerns, but it was not to be.

The audience loved it. The performances are good: for me Richards certainly outshone Travolta and Suzanne Carley made an attractive Sandy, although her voice was a little too harsh in Hopelessly. Sound balance was a bit off at times, with voices occasionally drowned by what was otherwise an excellent band. The cast were clearly enjoying the show as much as the audience and their enthusiasm in the musical numbers was infectious.

Fans of the show will love it. Those who don't know it (is there anyone?) will find much to enjoy. But I'm afraid I'm still not keen.

Steve Orme also reviewed this production in Nottingham

Reviewer: Peter Lathan