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Review: Dreaming of success at The Orchard

Dreamboats And Petticoats at The Orchard, Dartford
Dreamboats And Petticoats at The Orchard, Dartford

by Keith Hunt

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. You only has to look at the incredible success of Mama Mia to prove that. The story might be a little saccharine and flimsy but the music of Abba and humour carries it along on the crest of tidal wave.

Dreamboats and Petticoats may not be in the same box office league, but the same premise applies. The main difference with other hit musicals is that it is not based on movies and books but hit CDs harking back to the golden Fifties and Sixties before The Beatles monopolised the charts.

When tackling songs and references to a bygone era the audience might be expected to be of the same vintage. Not a bit of it if the show at Dartford's Orchard Theatre on Monday was a yardstick.

All generations could be spotted in the audience, laughing along at the corny jokes (e.g. 'Just because they're called Wagon Wheels doesn't mean you have to have four of them.') and bopping to lively songs such as At The Hop and Let's Dance.

Audiences for Dreamboats the touring version have perhaps been boosted by the success of the same show currently running to hot reviews in the West End.

It did indeed seem so much simpler back way back then. Stockings were only three-and-six at BHS and good girls didn't go all the way - just a chaste kiss and cuddle in the tunnel of love.

The foot-tapping, hand-clapping action takes place in 1961 at St Mungo's youth club in Essex, where a group of kids aspire to be like such heroes as Del Shannon, Roy Orbison and Eddie Cochran.

Some local flavour is injected into the far from cerebral script early one when one bright spark declares that one singer auditioning for a group was better than that skinny bloke from Dartford with the big lips.

Jonathan Bremner, whose main claim to fame is getting to the final seven in Sharon Osbourne's group on X Factor, is Norman the arrogant lothario who clashes with Bobby (Josh Capper) over shameless Sue (cue song Runaround Sue), who was a finalist in TV's I'll Do Anything.

It all fits neatly together when Norman's group is named The Conquests and he struts around the stage combing his oily quiff like Travolta in Grease. Bobby, meanwhile, snubs his mate's gawky sister Laura (cue Tell Laura I Love Her), played by the talented Daniella Bowen.

Laura turns 16 and blossoms into a blonde babe with a talent for song-writing. And, yes, you have guessed it, Bobby is right there to belt out Only Sixteen and the cast Happy Birthday Sweet 16.

The songs are a scriptwriter's dream. Little Town Flirt fits the bill for Sue, who is free on Saturday night but half a crown the rest of the week.

Josh Capper makes a fair fist of Roy Orbison songs In Dreams and Only The Lonely - no mean feat when the Big O was known for the terrific range to his voice and perfect pitch. Daniella Bowen is also a class act.

The retro sets captured the atmosphere of the time and the inclusion of a trip to a Southend funfair, complete with a brace of dodgem cars, is inspired. The musicians were right on the money.

Feel good is the buzzword in these troubled times and I defy anybody to walk away from this show disappointed. We were all on our feet, hips creaking in some areas, for the stonking finale.

Dream on!

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