Anyone who remembers the 1980 and 90s will no doubt recall the golden days of Australian soap operas which launched the careers of the likes of Kylie and Dannii Minogue and Jason Donovan. AJN Productions’ Summer Street, now playing Waterloo East Theatre after a successful stint at the Brighton Fringe, pays tribute to these glory days with a musical packed full of satire and an added dash of humour.
Written and directed by Andrew Norris, Summer Street tells the story of four former Australian soap stars, three of whom are struggling to cope in the real world now that their television careers are over. Angie (Sarah-Louise Young) now works on the fish counter of Speedymart, Paul (Myke Cotton) is a hippy who pines for his lost love and Bruce (Simon Snashall) spends his days drowning his sorrows after his wife left him. Only Steph (Julie Clare) has kept her place in the spotlight, appearing in popular spin-off show The Wallabies. When the quartet are invited back to the studios to film an anniversary special culminating in a live episode (in which they’re required to play all the parts because, after all, no one will notice), they jump at the chance to resurrect their careers, but soon discover all isn’t quite as it seems.
Summer Street is largely an enjoyable watch and succeeds most when it’s poking fun out of soap operas in a style similar to that of Acorn Antiques. The most entertaining moments are the most absurd – involving actors uncertain of camera angles, accidentally reading out stage directions from the script, forgetting lines, pulling out medical wires and even a toy dog on wheels alerting characters to the news that someone’s been trapped down a mine shaft. The cast of four – Julie Clare, Myke Cotton, Simon Snashall and Sarah-Louise Young – all do a fine job in bringing to life their characters, not to mention the many residents of Summer Street. Snashall is particularly amusing as the down in the dumps Bruce, who turns to drink following his departure from the soap, while Sarah-Louise Young not only excels vocally, but also with her satirical portrayal of Sheila Aussie, one of the most recognisable and comical characters.
Having been billed as the “hilarious Aussie soap opera musical”, expectations for Summer Street are high, and that may be part of the problem. While the musical is funny and there are the odd laugh-out-loud moments, there are times when it falls flat and feels far too complicated. With a running time of two hours (including an interval) the show packs too much in, and as a result the first act in particular drags a little, though thankfully the second half is much stronger. Unfortunately there are also some songs on the soundtrack which fail to impress and are largely forgettable. As with the book, the best songs are the more fun and upbeat numbers including the infectious ‘Lucky, Plucky Me!’ and ‘Don’t Give Up,’ which pays tribute to the Kylie and Jason days.
Summer Street was first developed in 2006 and has since been transformed from a series of comedy sketches into a musical. While the musical shows promise and certainly has potential, at present it still feels like a work in progress and could be developed further. On the whole Summer Street is eccentric and energetic, a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
Summer Street runs at the Waterloo East Theatre until 2 June.
Photo credit: Simon Snashall