The Playhouse, Edinburgh
The rain pouring outside the Playhouse is a telling pointer of the night’s entertainment inside, where former X-Factor crooner Ray Quinn slips into Cliff Richard’s pastel-coloured slacks in this latest tour of the stage musical based on the 1963 film. Quinn is Don, the London bus grease monkey who manages to sweet-talk the management of a pre-privatised service into letting him and his merry prankster mates co-opt a bright red double-decker as a mobile holiday home for their European road trip. Along the way they pick up a girl band and runaway pop star Barbara, whose pushy mother has already jaded her to success.
Racky Plews’ production of Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan’s script adapted from Ronald Cass and Peter Myers’ original screenplay shows off more of a saccharine sixties than a swinging one. Like the film, it depicts an innocent world where teeny-bop pop and light entertainment soundtrack a magical mystery tour around a picture postcard version of foreign parts young people were desperate to discover for themselves.
In this sense the end result is an infectiously endearing mix of innocence and experience, with Quinn and Sophie Matthew as Barbara leading a series of wide-eyed routines that even nudging attempts to sex thing up can’t spoil. The one sad loss is the airbrushing out of The Great Orlando, Ron Moody’s virtuoso mime artist in the film.
In the end, however, the show’s nostalgic appeal wins out. For the finale, while everyone else is giving it teeth and smiles, big-suited former Opportunity Knocks winner Bobby Crush stands at a portable piano looking for all the world like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Jools Holland. This alone is worth the bus ticket for a vintage slice of British showbiz fun.
The Herald, June 21st 2018