Review of Dreamboats and Petticoats at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, March 5 2012

I HAVE A CONFESSION. When I was (very, very) young I owned a circular black and white gingham skirt, sugar-starched flounced petticoats, a broderie anglaise sun top (channelling Brigitte Bardot, there the similarity ended) and block-heeled, ankle strapped red dancing shoes.

My friend Maggie had the same outfit but looked much better than me.

So it was good but slightly unnerving to reprise those early ‘sixties uncertain teen years with hundreds of other mid-lifers on Monday. We were too good mannered to rip up our theatre seats but we certainly danced in the aisles at the first night of Dreamboats and Petticoats at Brighton’s Theatre Royal.

This was the feelgood evening of the year – a musical triumph featuring some of the greatest hits of the rock ‘n roll era performed by a young and supremely talented cast. As the theatre’s press officer said: “It’s no good taking up a stage career these days unless you can sing, dance, act and play one – or several – musical instruments.’

Brighton was the first date on the show’s round Britain tour so of course the cast were zinging and sparky with adrenaline. It’s hard to pick out any for special praise, but young Samantha Dorrance (Laura) is going to give Elaine Paige a run for her money soon, David Ribi’s voice growls, explodes yet hits the Orbison high notes with precision and Katie Birtill is a flirty Sue who would have been described in terms we certainly can’t use in a family newspaper.

The story is boy loves girl, girl falls in love with another boy but finally realises the first boy was the one for her. It tells the story of two young musicians who are competing for a national song writing competition (and the heart of Sue.) And when Bobby discovers that shy Laura has hidden talents as a pianist, love and rock ‘n roll fame beckon.

It’s a song a minute with an astonishing repertoire of classic tracks from artistes including Roy Orbison, The Shadows and Billy Fury including Let’s Dance, To Know Him is to Love Him, Shakin’ All Over, Bobby’s Girl (of course,) Little Town Flirt, Only 16 and Let’s Twist Again, (I remember gorgeous friend Maggie describing a London Club where Margot Fonteyn demonstrated the dance on top of a table!

Terry Winstanley was authorative and in top-notch voice as Phil and the older Bobby; Ben James-Ellis (Norman – almost a Connery lookalike) deserved rock-star status and Anna Campkin voiced a rich-toned Donna with a fabulous cottage-loaf hairstyle, (I had one of those too.)

The sensational cast (who also sang and danced) provided the musical backing in true club ‘sixties style with accomplished acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard, drums, saxophone, trumpet, flute, clarinet and piano.

Words were by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Goodnight Sweetheart, Birds of a Feather) who must have been there at the time. There were references to dad’s Vauxhall Velox, three bob a week pocket money, the first episode of Coronation Street (‘Just how long do they think that will run?’) and an obscure pop group ‘performing in Germany.’

Whether you owned a gingham skirt, drainpipes or your granny and grandad did, you’ll all rock to this one. Three more performances after you’ve read this review – grab your tickets.

by Susan King