The distinctive nature of Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s intensive, summer-only repertory system means that this is the first taste of Elizabeth Newman’s debut season as artistic director since moving from Bolton Octagon last year.
Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan’s adaptation of the Cliff Richard-starring 1963 film was previously staged by Newman at the Octagon – here, as there, co-directed with Ben Occhipinti.
It’s the perfect choice for her opening production. It’s fast-paced and crowd-pleasing, with a nostalgic appeal. Yet it also contains a sense of swashbuckling internationalist adventures, capable of appealing to the younger audience that Newman wants to attract to the venue.
In the best musical numbers, such as In the Country, We Say Yeah and Move It – all played as well as sung by the cast – there’s a sense of teen excitement and possibility that doesn’t grow old.
Returning ensemble member David Rankine is suave but not overbearing as bus mechanic Don, leader of the group of guys going on holiday to the south of France in a converted bus, when a touring vocal trio convinces them to detour to Athens.
Lynwen Haf Roberts plays absconded teen pop singer Barbara, and the inevitable romance between her and Don speaks to the traditional sexual politics of the original. The addition of a same-sex couple amid the inevitable pairings-off is a welcome update.
The youthful ensemble does great work, but special mention must go to Alexander Bean, whose rich baritone vocal grabs the attention on Time Drags By, and Barbara Hockaday as Barbara’s grasping socialite mother Stella, who gets all the best comedy moments.
Amanda Stoodley’s set of vivid international flags and wheeled bus seats works well with Lesley Hutchison’s vibrant choreography, the visual icing on the cake of a vivacious piece of popular entertainment that announces Newman’s arrival in style.