Review: The Young Ones – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Ruthless property developers buying up every spare scrap of land to build the latest office block. Before the recent economic downturn it could easily be a tale of today, but 50 years ago this was a relatively new threat facing our cities and one that gave a young Cliff Richard a vehicle on which to hang some of his most popular hits.

When the film of The Young Ones hit the big screen in 1961, Cliff was in many ways England’s clean-cut repost to the wilder antics of Elvis Presley. The stage adaptation of this cinematic musical also seems strangely clean-cut as well. There’s no shocks here, nothing to really tax the brain and the youth on display are so full of doe-eyed ‘lets put on a show here’ enthusiasm that diabetics may be in danger of overdosing on saccharine. To be honest, though, this isn’t a show that claims to be a serious examination of social issues. True, it does touch on class, wealth and parental expectations but it is with the lightest of touch and fleetingness that never threatens to get in the way of pure entertainment. This is an unashamedly feel-good show that isn’t afraid to wear its lightness loud and proud.

The material seems a perfect vehicle for the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch troupe of resident actor musicians, with the musical numbers being the real drivers of the story rather than the frankly weak script and corny dialogue.

Matt Devitt’s production plays it simply, sensibly realising that the music is the strongest element of the piece and allowing that to come to the fore. There’s plenty of period detail to firmly anchor the piece as well as just enough knowing nods to Sir Cliff – talk of rather going on a summer holiday and reference to a young singer called Harry Webb – Cliff’s birth name – provide some wry laughs.

Rodney Ford’s simple set of London backdrop and scaffolding towers provide a versatile playground for the young, multi-tasking company.

Mark Stanford wisely avoids any attempt at a Cliff parody in the role of Nicky, the undercover son of the property developer threatening his youth club. His is very much a clean-cut rebel but one unafraid to rock the family tree when pushed. Stanford sings up a storm that easily convinces as a burgeoning pop star.

There is a wonderful chemistry between Stanford and Fiona Finsbury as his put-upon girlfriend, Toni, with renditions of Lessons In Love and No One For Me packing a real emotional punch. There’s strong support from Wendy Paver’s French (via Bethnal Green) Chanteuse Dorinda Morrell, and Simon Jessop’s deliciously cunning Hamilton Black. It is also a pleasure to the theatre’s youth company seamlessly integrated into mainstream productions to bolster the ensemble.

Fifty years on and in all honesty it’s hard to say The Young Ones has matured into a classic piece of entertainment. Corny dialogue and a contrived plot fail to disguise the fact that they are a vehicle purely to hang the Cliff Richard classics on. With that proviso, however, as a piece of light-hearted entertainment this production manages to pull it off.

Two hours of two-tapping performances will certainly appeal to the young and not so young ones.

Photo: The cast of The Young Ones at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch. Picture by Nobby Clark

Review originally written for The Public Reviews

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