If you are looking for a fun family show for Christmas this upbeat and hilarious reworking of the Snow Queen story is for you. Writer Charles Way has adapted the Hans Christian Anderson favourite into a lively and engaging romp of an adventure, following Gerda on her quest to free Cei from the wicked Snow Queen. On the way she grows in courage and strength, finding herself as well as her friend. Christopher James Ash’s joyful musical mash-ups had the children in the audience on their feet, dancing along, caught in the atmosphere and loving it.
Ayesha Casely-Hayford is a sweet and charming Gerda, initially prone to panic attacks, and becoming resourceful and brave as her journey progresses. Esmonde Cole’s Cei is a teenager messing up at school and looking for more in life. Their friendship felt real, and like something worth fighting for when Gerda’s father forbids them to see each other. The father is played by Justin Brett, who also plays Daffodil and Bae the reindeer. His preening and beautifully camp Daffodil was definitely one of the comedy highlights of the show, and he brings the reindeer, a beautiful and magical creature of the forest, ably to life. The snow queen enters with a powerful soprano outburst as Frances Marshall revels in her evil character, and the other three cast members, Matt Cavendish, Paula James and Sarah-Louise Young, play their multiple roles with gusto. James’ Princess Frederica and her sidekick played by Young were a TOWIE delight and Cavendish danced and bashed people with gay abandon in the forest.
All this activity took place in Gregor Donnelly’s imaginative set and Richard Williamson’s lighting that showed us stars, the northern lights and the passing of the seasons, with added atmosphere from James Nicholson’s sound design. Abigail Anderson, the director, has worked with her company to make a little bit of magic and a whole lot of fun.
“If you’re a lover of the old Aussie soaps and fancy a few drinks and a silly night out with a group of friends, this is the musical for you”
Summer Street is the brain child of Andrew Norris, who has written the book, music and lyrics and also directs this production. It is a light-hearted homage to the sunny Australian soaps that the UK fell in love with in the late ’80s and ’90s, and Norris shows his fondness for them in this affectionate and very silly pastiche. The musical’s premise is that the four main stars of the show have been invited back to film some special anniversary episodes, culminating in a live broadcast, to mark the fact that the last ever episode was aired five years previously. The show begins with a collage of the ridiculously overblown ways in which the characters each met their deaths, and we then see the actors rehearsing, whilst also giving us an insight into the lives they have been living away from the small screen. Aside from the soap’s star, Steph, whose stardom has continued in a successful spin-off soap, The Wallabies, these aren’t happy stories: Bruce has been left by his wife and is a heavy drinker, Angie works at the fish counter of Speedy Mart, and Paul is a feckless stoner.
There is a nice little twist to conclude the piece, which, incidentally, is much stronger altogether in the second half, but, in the main, Summer Street is a straightforward gag-driven comedy; the one long-playing gag here being the absurd plotlines and hammy acting that characterised Neighbours and Home and Away, but stole the UK’s heart nonetheless, and piloted Kylie Minogue to superstardom. Angie’s main character Bobbi nods to Kylie’s Charlene days, and Paul’s Brock has more than a touch of Jason Donovan, but it is Steph’s Mrs Mingle who absolutely steals the show. Julie Clare is magnificent as Steph and brings a West End professionalism to her performance that completely outclasses her material. She has a fabulous voice and superb comic timing; she simply radiates showmanship, and is even able to lift the cringey tribute song Lucky, Plucky Me!. Norris is extremely lucky to have her on board, as she really does carry this show.
That being said, the three other cast members are all strong and give committed performances throughout. Sarah-Louise Young really comes into her own in the second half and gives a fantastic punchy rendition of her big solo number Chains Around My Heart, as well as a terrific and very funny cameo as her secondary character Sheila in the live broadcast sequence. Despite being hampered by laryngitis, Simon Snashall was engaging as the Eeyore-like Bruce, and Myke Cotton made the most of the ageing juvenile lead Paul.
Summer Street is a pretty flimsy show, and neither the script nor the songs withstand close scrutiny, but the performers are all of a higher calibre than the material. If you’re a lover of the old Aussie soaps and fancy a few drinks and a silly night out with a group of friends, this is the musical for you.