Summer In The City

Jennifer Selway
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Eliza Shea as Joanna, Harry Curley as Bobby, Helen Goldwyn as Hetty, Elizabeth Walker as Vera, Connor Arnold as Sam and Candis Butler Jones as Cassie Credit: Darren Bell
Candis Butler Jones as Cassie, Eliza Shea as Joanna, Elizabeth Walker as Vera and Helen Goldwyn as Hetty Credit: Darren Bell
Connor Arnold as Sam and Candis Butler Jones as Cassie Credit: Darren Bell
Elizabeth Walker as Vera, Connor Arnold as Sam and Harry Curley as Bobby Credit: Darren Bell

Ovations’ Christmas treat at Upstairs at the Gatehouse is boldly acknowledged as a jukebox musical (that is how they describe it with a jukebox on the poster). It is a vibrant celebration of the popular songs of the 1960s which borrows the title of one of them. It is a delightful nostalgia fest for those who heard them back then and a cheerful, foot-tapping entertainment for everyone.

Director John Plews and writer Jennifer Selway have devised an original music industry story that takes place in 1965 and 1967 in Soho, where it is mainly in a coffee bar called The Four Eyes located somewhere very close to where the real Two Is coffee bar was that was the hangout of Tommy Steel and other rock and roll musicians.

The Four Eyes is run by former singer with radio big bands Hetty (Helen Goldwyn) assisted by her waiter and espresso machine machine operator Sam (Connor Arnold), a former US soldier from Detroit who aspires to manage pop stars. It is there that journalist Joanna (Eliza Shea), who has ambitions as a singer, is currently rehearsing and things really get started with a splendid rendition of “Downtown”.

Sam is impressed and sees professional possibilities and, finding more talent among the bar’s other customers (all those we meet in fact), he is soon trying to assemble an all-girl trio with Joanna, Cassie (Candis Butler Jones), a would-be fashion designer about to start as a student at the RCA, and traffic warden Vera (Elisabeth Walker). When Bobby turns up, a rather naïve photographer newly arrived in London from Liverpool who also turns out to be a songwriter, Sam has got a winning team. They have hardly begun working together as The Vixens when they score a hit.

Yes, it is perhaps all too easy, but this is a frame for the music and not documentary, though the writer’s researcher makes it full of facts that fit and give a semblance of substance and the script cleverly fashions cues for a succession of twenty numbers that range from ”Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” to “Bobby’s Girl” and “I Want to Be With You”. More upbeat numbers are contrasted with Bobby’s gentler rendering of “Ferry ‘cross The Mersey”, though his deceptively quiet opening to “I’m a Believer” soon launches into full throttle. With this cast of fine singers and a grand band led by music director Curtis Lavender, the music is in good hands. Plews and choreographer Aimee Leigh find plenty of reasons to use the whole of the traverse space of Ruby Boswell Green’s set with lively dancing that breaks out into tap at one time.

After the interval and a gap of two years, thing aren’t going so smoothly. The Vixens begin to assert themselves individually, but with a change of emphasis, everyone is happy, professionally and romantically, and the audience certainly happy too—they even have the chance for a little participation.

Summer in the City makes an undemanding but very enjoyable evening, though Gatehouse regulars will be sorry to learn that this is Ovations’ last Christmas musical in their Highgate theatre. Over the last quarter century, husband and wife team director John Plews and producer Katie have made their productions a must for enthusiastic audiences. Now they are passing the baton on for current manager Annlouise Butt and her partner Isaac to maintain the high reputation they have so firmly established. But the Plews have theatre in their blood. “What next?” you can’t help asking.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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