UK Review: "Summer Holiday: The Musical"

Adam Bruce

  • United Kingdom Theatre Critic

The iconic 1963 film Summer Holiday, starring a young Cliff Richard, will have undoubtedly provided some relief to the rain-sodden Brits in the more than likely cold February of its release that year. In recent years, building on the success of the much-loved film, its story has found a new life on stage, having now been adapted into a musical. As I walked into the Leeds Grand Theatre, where I managed to catch it on its national tour, I looked forward to experiencing the summertime vibes the show promised to drench its audience with – I’m sure this would definitely make it the hottest summer we’ve had in England for a very long time…

Summer Holiday: the Musical brings us to a cold, rainy day in 1963. Mechanic Don (Ray Quinn) and his three friends Steve, Edwin and Cyril (Billy Roberts, Joe Goldie and Rory Maguire) can’t stand the weather anymore, and naturally decide to take a road trip to France on a converted AEC red London bus. Along the way, they bump into Mimsie, Alma and Angie (Gabby Antrobus, Alice Baker and Laura Marie Benson), three singers whose car breaks down on their way to perform in Athens. The lads offer them a lift, and continuing on their travels, they bump into runaway singer Barbara (Sophie Matthew), and the three find love on the madcap adventure of a lifetime.

Adapted for the stage by Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan, Summer Holiday closely echoes the original plot of the film, albeit condensed down into shorter scenes sandwiched between iconic sixties hits including the title ‘Summer Holiday’, ‘Living Doll’ and ‘Bachelor Boy’. This adaptation makes for a streamlined, enjoyable piece of theatre, and under the direction and choreography of Racky Plews, really soars and lights up the lofty aperture of the historical theatre. The piece brims with energy and pulses with a sense of enjoyment from the constantly growing bond between performer and spectator, making for an engaging, delightful watch.

The piece’s objective to be a feel-good production certainly feels like it’s been achieved – the performances from the whole company engage with the adaptation and breathe a new life into the iconic film’s cultural heritage. Quinn and his gang, along with the multi-roling ensemble, give strong performances buttressed with stamina and playfulness. Plews’ choreography is energetically brought to life during the production, and it seems as if the original essence of the film permeates throughout, in turn enhancing every other production aspect as a result.

These aspects include Steve Howell’s set design, which makes economical use of the space and also makes clever use of the production’s very own recreation of the iconic red London bus, streamlining the action and giving the cast plenty of room to spread their infectious energy. Tim Deiling’s lighting design is also economical, providing a wide range of vibrant washes that help to enhance the mood of each scene and the musical numbers.

There are a few times, however, where I couldn’t help but wonder what a potentially larger directorial vision might have achieved – for a jukebox musical that specialises in some real gems from a pivotal decade in music, and adapted from a film starring one of the greatest selling musicians of all time, the traditional formula of having the band in the pit seems like it doesn’t quite fit the vibe of the piece. Music became such an incredible part of the culture back then, and it might have been nice to see it celebrated even further here, making it even more memorable and special.

This is only a small nitpick, though. Summer Holiday: the Musical makes for a highly enjoyable evening, with engaging performances and an inescapable feel-good vibe that has you leaving the theatre humming the melodies of some sixties gems and with an inspired desire to pick up a holiday brochure and jet off on an adventure of your own.

Summer Holiday: the Musical is at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 4th August, and continues on tour. For more information and tickets, visit