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Summer in the City (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Summer in the City

Society: Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Venue: Upstairs at the Gatehouse. 1 North Road, London N6 4BD

Credits: Written by Jennifer Selway. Musical Supervisor Kevin Oliver Jones. Directed by John Plews. Presented by Ovation)

Summer in the City 4 stars

This newly minted 1960s juke box musical is like a warm bath with lots of bubbles – smilingly appealing to sink into. And yet – for me – at least, it feels fresh and stops short of cheesiness. Suffice it to say I grinned and chuckled a lot.

Jennifer Selway gives us six characters who meet in a Carnaby Street coffee bar (remember those?) in 1965. One is a journalist, another an aspirant art student and a third a traffic warden. The coffee bar is owned by a wise, older woman and a young American man works for her, Then a Liverpudlian wannabe photographer falls through the door. Gradually they become friends with various relationships and tensions between them forming a surprisingly coherent narrative considering that it’s driven by the musical numbers.

All the acting and singing is strong and the five piece band, seated at one end of the well used traverse space, do a splendid job led by Curtis Lavender on keys (or sometimes sax or guitar). I loved their Nut Rocker – an arrangement of part of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker by Kim Fowley at the beginning of the second half.

Joanna (Eliza Shea), Cassie (Candis Butler Jones) and Vera (Elizabeth Walker) form a girl band managed by Sam (Connor Arnold – fine actor muso) who doesn’t want to serve coffee for ever. Each girl has a different reason for doing this but as a trio they make a good sound and achieve some success. And Helen Goodwin (another pleasing singer)  brings gravitas and balance as Hetty who used to perform during the war with her late husband.

But the one to watch – really watch – is Harry Curley as Bobby. He’s a 2022 graduate from Mountview and is vibrantly strong as well as engagingly natural.  His rendering of Dedicated Follower of Fashion is an energetic show stopper. He can also do lyrical. Accompanying himself evocatively on acoustic guitar for Ferry ‘cross the Mersey as a love song, he’s so convincing that yes, I’d have gone anywhere with him. In some ways he reminds me of Charlie Stemp. Remember where you first heard this.

Selway, who has worked with John Plews a lot over the years, makes the book witty – which is why it works so well. There are some good, often rueful, jokes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could carry phones with us instead of relying on phone boxes? Rock and Roll doesn’t last. It isn’t as though the Rolling Stones are going to be performing in their seventies is it?  “Why can’t you go to college? Surely you don’t have to pay tuition fees in this country?” And of course the knowing audience smiles each time it hears a song coming on. Obviously Elizabeth Walker eventually sings Bobbie’s Girl and we can all relax because as Hetty remarks “We all like a happy ending”

Just the job for a damp winter’s day. I sang all the way home.



First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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