Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Dreamboats and Petticoats Musical Review Congress Theatre Eastbourne

Dreamboats and Petticoats
Congress Theatre Eastbourne

18th-23rd May 2009
Performance seen
Tuesday, May 19th

Dreamboats and Petticoats the musical starring Scott Bruton, Ben Freeman, Daisy Wood-Davis, A J Dean, Jennifer Biddall, Emma Hatton, David Cardy
(in appearance order)

Older Bobby - David Cardy
Daisy - Sophie Byrne
Andy - Adam Welsh
Richard - Sam Palladio
Colin - Michael Kantola
Barry - Robin Johnson
Derek - Patrick Burbridge
Bobby - Scott Bruton
Ray - AJ Dean
Laura - Daisy Wood-Davis
Sue - Jennifer Biddall
Donna - Emma Hatton
Norman - Ben Freeman
Frank - Mike Lloyd
Eric - Stuart Ward
Jeremy - Andrew Venning
Babs - Wendy Paver
Helen - Deborah Hewitt

Over the last couple of years I've discovered how much better it must be reviewing a show independently when you are going to a show because you want to and not because a newspaper or other publication has paid you to do so.

It gives you more freedom to write as much as you like, not just a few paragraphs and in doing so you can be more open about feelings about performers without being biased.

I mention this now for two reasons.

Firstly I've read a few on-line newspaper reviews of Dreamboats and Petticoats and it's cast before writing this. I have to say if I was to read those reviews I would really be none the wiser as to whether it is worth seeing or not. Many reviews don't even name the cast members or mention a particular actor or actress. Did they go when they even have free tickets to attend? Makes you wonder.

The second reason is that I don't see how these critics can be unbiased. I have seen reviewers at shows who have literally flirted with certain performers after the show (not after this performance I hasten to add). I even came across one who had a script they wanted an actor to look at. How can you then go back and do an independent review? I don't think you can. But then again it's my opinion.

Anyway there's no bias here. I'm not paid for it, I do it for fun and having a memory like a sieve, due to a previous brain haemorrhage, it is a good reference point if I ever want to know if I have seen a show before or whether a particular performer was good or not.

So this was the second night of the Eastbourne run of Dreamboats and Petticoats. Having been to the Devonshire Park Theatre the previous night I have no idea what the attendance was for that performance.

We arrived a little later than usual in the auditorium for this show (just 2 minutes before curtain-up due to chatting to a staff member) and expected to have to ask already seated audience members to get up so we could get to the front row stalls seats.

There was no need! The front row was occupied by just 4 of us in total. The second row was empty. In total I'm probably being generous in assuming that there were around 300-350 people in the auditorium which holds 1689.

Honestly it looked pathetic and it clearly must have looked so from the stage.

Low attendence levels seem to be a regular occurence these days, at least in Eastbourne's theatres. It's certainly not the material they are staging as I think the past 3-4 years have been outstanding. Some may blame the credit crunch, some say people prefer to watch TV or go out and get drunk. Me? I blame it on a total lack of promotion, advertising and ideas on behalf of the council. After this second night they were handing out leaflets with a special offer saying if you have enjoyed the show you can have up to 6 tickets at £15 each (normally £23.50).

I really feel this is a case of too-little-too-late. A couple of weeks before a shows run starts the theatre knows how many seats have been pre booked. This is the time to act - there must be numerous ways of shifting bargain tickets - the West End manage it and have done for years. Crikey.... I've had my brain squashed and even I think I could manage to shift more tickets. Any income for a business is better than no money at all. And if I was to resort to this last ditch attempt to get bottoms on seats I would have thought £10 (or even that magic number of £9.99) would have been more sensible for a show that still had 4 days to run. At that price we would gladly have returned and brought at least one friend with us. At £15 each I think not.

Anyway rant over but I do feel very strongly about poor attendances and I feel sorry for so many talented performers like these in Dreamboats and Petticoats. Whilst their professionalism means they won't perform any less brilliantly for a small crowd they deserve better than this.

However there is a review to do here and I am sure you will have noted above that we would gladly have gone again if the price was right?

At the outset that's as good a hint I can give that we thoroughly enjoyed the show. It certainly well exceeded all expectations I had given the lack of comprehensive reviews on-line.

It isn't labeled The Ultimate British Rock 'n' Roll Musical for nothing!

There are over 40 classic Rock 'n' Roll tracks including Dreamboats and Petticoats (obviously), Lets Twist Again, Shakin' All Over, Do You Wanna Dance?, At The Hop, Only The Lonely, Great Pretender and I could go on .... and on.

But in between these brilliant well-known tracks lies a story . The nice touch here is that there just seems to be the perfect balance in this musical between spoken script and the songs. It works really well, you can appreciate the story and you never tire of the rock 'n' roll hits.

OK the story may seem a little obvious and the ending can probably be worked out, by most, after the first 5 minutes. I'll try and sum it up without spoiling too much. A very spotty teenager, Bobby, is a bit of a daddy's boy. He also fancies himself as an aspiring songwriter but clearly needs a lot of help with his ambition. He also doesn't quite understand why the local (big busted, anytime - anywhere, with almost anybody) bit of a slapper, Sue isn't interested in him because she's seen bigger muscles on a seafood salad ,less spots on a leopard and more confidence in a plank of wood.

Then we have, 15 year old Laura, who is madly in love with Bobby. Laura is totally head-over-heels in love with Bobby. However Bobby is blind to the fact because she starts out looking like Joe 90 (her long blonde hair tied up, NHS specs etc.).
But Laura is an outstanding singer/songwriter..........I think you're getting the picture....

Local singing stud and hunk-amatic, Norman, (who has totally raided the aforementioned seafood salad of all muscles) does try to get in the way of young love.... I'm sure you can work out the remainder for yourself.

Yes it's a sort of Rock 'n' Roll cross between Grease and Cinderella.

But it is bloody brilliant and I would gladly have gone again!

I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a musical where the cast got an honest standing-ovation. By that I mean an ovation where they are not encouraged to stand for a final singalong.

We may not have been part of the biggest Congress Theate audience in history but I did glance round at the end and every single person was on their feet. It was an honest, spontaneous and well deserved reaction to a fabulous show, where the cast play their own instruments, the choreography is first class and the set is magnificent.
Even the stagehands appeared to move scenery with steps perfectly timed to the music.

I must mention some of the cast although please remember this is a cast of 18 all of whom are excellent.

Most people will know Scott Bruton for his performance on the X-Factor in which he was chosen by Simon Cowell to appear on the live shows.

Scott Bruton star of Dreamboats and PetticoatsHe must have been delighted to have been chosen to play the lead role of Bobby in this production.

I thought Scott played the ambitious, but rather hopeless, Bobby very well indeed. For a first major production I thought he acted very well. Vocally I thought he was extremely good although I did find that in a couple of tracks his vocal range did seem to be stretched by a couple of higher notes. I have to say this is a pathetically minor point and did not detract from Scott's overall super performance. Besides given the fact he didn't even make the final eliminations in The X-Factor to have the lead role in such a major production is an amazing achievement.

Actor David Cardy plays the role of Old Bobby. David has a long list of credits in theatre and TV although most people would remember David as Chris Theodopolopodous in Birds Of A Feather (in series 1&7 with Peter Polycarpou playing Emma Hatton stars in Dreamboats and Petticoatsthe part in series 2-6). I have to be honest - I thought David was far more impressive in Dreamboats and Petticoats than in Birds Of A Feather. Not because his acting was bad in BOAF - I just think the public had got more used to the build, size and look of Peter Polycarpou who did, at least, look like a Greek.The role of Old Bobby seems to suit him perfectly though and I feel allows him to display his true talent.

Emma Hatton takes on the role of Sue's friend Donna. A fabulous singer, with a rather infectious beautiful smile, Emma has degrees in Sport Science and English gained at Loughborough University. If that wasn't enough she then went on to train at London School of Musical Theatre where she graduated with distinction. Emma's ever growing list of theatre credits includes appearing in the West End in Christmas In New York at The Apollo Theatre.

Jennifer Biddall stars in Dreamboats and PetticoatsAnother beautiful young lady Jennifer Biddall takes to the role of feisty, fiery and buxom character of Sue like a duck to water. She is a strong confident singer and actress and delivered a brilliant performance. You have to give Jennifer extra credit though as this is her musical theatre debut. She has a long history of theatre credits and of course the two and a half years spent starring as Jessica Harris in Hollyoaks. Jennifer trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. We hope Jennifer enjoys the rest of her first musical tour and that she is subsequently keen to do more of the same.

Ben Freeman (playing Norman) Sadly we do not live in a fair or just world anymore. You should be able to do a Google search and instantly be confronted by the former Emmerdale actor's biography and TV/Theatre history.

Ben Freeman stars in Dreamboats and PetticoatsBut instead, in a country where the media seems to take pleasure in destroying people, especially those that are famous, the links are dominated by a crime this lovely guy did not even commit. He lost his job, he had to endure being plastered all over the press day after day and even now when he is trying to get back to a normal life the first thing people (like myself) find when they are searching for things he has done is the one thing he hasn't done. Something is terribly wrong there - the British legal system is meant to be the best in the world. Meanwhile the name of the party who made the false allegation does not get made public for "legal reasons". The law is an ass. It's not innocent until proven guilty - it's become guilty until proved innocent.... and then we'll still make you suffer. It is so wrong with something as powerful as Google that this is the way search results are prioritized on a simple name search - wrong, wrong, wrong!

Well there is actually much more to Ben Freeman than a superbly acted 10 years in Emmerdale (10 years and your employer does that to you!).

He trained at Redroofs Theatre In Maidenhead. He has appeared in The Sound Of Music, appeared in a movie - Danielle Steele's "Jewels". He was also cast as Chris Longworth in Grange Hill where he spent 4 years. Whilst in Emmerdale his "second job" became regular pantos as Prince Charming. Recently he has appeared in Big Bruvver The Musical. People may also not be aware that Ben presents on TV for The Disney Channel including Wake Up In The Wild Room and Smash Hits Roadshows.

Ben has also been a keen charity fundraiser having helped raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities including DEBRA and leukaemia research by founding The Emmerdale Charity Football Team.

Thank goodness for Dreamboats and Petticoats producer Bill Kenwright and his casting team seeing that the role of Norman suits Ben like a tight fitting glove.

He's a great actor - nobody would have expected otherwise but his singing and dancing ability has clearly been in hibernation for many years. I have read somewhere that Ben was nervous about taking on this musical role playing cocky, confident, muscly hunk Norman. Forget the nerves Ben and just enjoy yourself as you have made the role your own and if, sometime in the future, you don't get the role of Pharaoh in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat I will be amazed.

Your talents have truly been revealed in this production - including those muscles - does this guy rehearse or just go to the gym?

As for Emmerdale? I don't think they deserve somebody as talented as you back. Personally I hope you stick to theatre (more musicals?) or at least a different TV show!

Daisy Wood-Davis (Laura)

Young Daisy is the last person of this amazing Dreamboats and Petticoats cast I am going to mention but I have done so for a reason.

It is 100% a case of .... and last but not least.

The rest of the cast all have a long acting, singing, or musical list of credits to their name.

Yet here we have Daisy in a lead role whilst she has only just started her second year of training. It really is an incredible start for this young lady.

She started training, aged three, with ballet lessons. She the attended Stagecoach for 9 years. She then won a place at the Italia Conti Academy Of Theatre Arts. Whilst training she also studied her GCSE's. Two years on she auditioned for a diploma course and was awarded a full scholarship.

Daisy Wood-Davis stars as Laura in Dreamboats and PetticoatsWith this being her first real job Daisy's credits are understandably short having played Alice in Alice in Wonderland at The Edwardian Theatre and a part in Richard Curtis's movie "The Boat That Rocked". Sony BMG also scouted her to do some song writing.

Interesting that the programme reads "Daisy is one term into her second year of training and feels she is extremely fortunate to gain such an amazing role before the completion of her course". In the words constantly uttered by Simon Cowell "She probably doesn't realise how good she really is!"

On to the stage comes this dainty, petite, young girl, with her in-character NHS specs in place, and sits at the piano.

It's one of those moments when you don't quite expect what is coming next. The piano playing is formidable but her beautiful voice is really something else.

Confidence? She seems to have bags of the stuff. If this newcomer was nervous boy she hides it well.

This is a young lady who is going to go a long, long way in her career. I hope she sticks to more theatrical shows as she has a stunning voice that is best appreciated live.

This is one Daisy that has only just started to bloom!

We did get the opportunity to meet the cast after the show and what a friendly cast they are. It was nice that for such a large cast showed no hurry whatsoever to escape to the local pub (they were going there as all casts do but it wasn't the priority).

Instead they took all the time that was needed to meet the people that had come to congratulate them, have a photo taken , sign an autograph or even have a big hug! ( I would stress here I did no big hugging!!)

Scott Bruton was very chatty, extremely friendly to all and made a love-struck, very, giggly female fan very happy.
Young Daisy Wood-Davis is as confident off-stage as she appears on it happily talking to people.
Ben Freeman
who's performance in this musical had amazed us greeted the fans, thanked people for coming, and again did not rush off as many do.
Smiley Emma Hatton was more than happy to oblige with a non-hurried photo and autograph as did "daddy of the cast" David Cardy.

Finally the lovely, extremely friendly and very down-to earth Jennifer Biddall took time out to talk to us and even posed for additional pictures (her suggestion).

What was also interesting during the chat with Jennifer was when I mentioned it was a shame the audience wasn't bigger for such a great show. She explained that the cast had been told by the theatre management that the show had only been advertised for a couple of weeks. Interesting indeed when we have had our tickets booked for months!! As I said right at the beginning this is a promotional issue with all shows in Eastbourne - it's such a shame for the cast, the production team, for the arts and for the future of our theatres and live entertainment in general.

But what a terrific show Dreamboats and Petticoats is...... if only they'd offered those hundreds of spare tickets at a more reasonable price we'd have gladly gone to see this wonderful cast and show again!

The show is on at the Congress Theatre until Saturday 23rd May and then continues to
Southampton, Mayflower Theatre 25-30 May
Liverpool, Empire Theatre 22-27 June
Richmond Theatre, Richmond, 29 Jun-4 Jul
Sunderland Empire Theatre, Sunderland 13-18 Jul
Grand Opera House, Belfast 28 Sept - 3 Oct
Grimsby Auditorium, Grimsby 2-7 Nov
Churchill Theatre, Bromley 9-14 Nov

Don't miss it!

5 out of 5 for Dreamboats and Petticoats national tour 2009

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