Summer in the City Review

Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate – until 15 January 2023

Reviewed by Phil and Viv Brown


credit: Darren Bell

Surely few theatre lovers can resist a 60s musical, especially one as polished and entertaining as this. And is there a better way of escaping a winter of discontent than with a blast of 60s high energy optimism?  Set in Swinging London at the height of the beat boom, the story charts the hopes and dreams of 5 eager young adults looking for a break at the Four Eyes Coffee Bar in Carnaby Street (a humorous nod to the original 2i’s coffee bar that played such a formative role in the birth of British pop).  

The Four Eyes is the hub of the action and is run by Hetty (well played by Helen Goldwyn) with the help of Sam Wilmott (Connor Arnold), a go-getter recently discharged from the US Air Force.   Hetty is an ex showbiz pro and falls into the role of matriarch, facilitator and confidante to the main characters who are slickly introduced in the opening scene.  Joanna (Eliza Shea) is a cub reporter for the Evening Standard and sings with the Four Eyes house band on the side.  Scouse wannabe photographer Bobby (Harry Curley) is looking for the action but a parking violation leads instead to traffic warden with a heart of gold Vera (Elizabeth Walker).  Hopeful fashion designer Cassie (Candis Butler Jones) then becomes Bobby’s target for his “you could be a model” spiel.  With Cassie’s need for college funds and Sam’s persistence, the three girls form a girl group – The Vixens – under Sam’s management, whilst Bobby takes care of publicity.  The stage is set for future stardom.

Aside from the obvious nostalgia appeal, there is so much to love and admire about this fondly crafted Ovation production.  The attention to period detail is exquisite.  The design and direction (John Plews) is masterful. The overall music supervision is immaculate (Kevin Oliver Jones & Curtis Lavender), and the small Four Eyes band is superb throughout.  It’s all expertly threaded together with a  beautifully written story (Jennifer Selway) that weaves in plenty of humour about the period and also the future, (“If only we had phones that we could carry around”), along with the smoothest of segués to the musical numbers, selected (pleasingly) from some of the more overlooked troves of 60s treasure.  Lead singer duties are shared pretty evenly across all six members of the ensemble and each grabs the opportunity to shine in the spotlight, showcasing a wonderful array of individual talent.   Connor Arnold as Sam also impressed as a multi-instrumentalist, moving from double bass to trumpet to guitar.  Together, this seriously talented cast pulled off a block-buster of a performance.  

Amongst the stand-out moments were the full-on dance routines in each half, Joanna’s hard rocking “Shoot Shoop Song“, Bobby’s tender “Ferry ‘cross the Mersey”,  Cassie’s powerful  rendition of “First Cut is the Deepest”,  Sam’s soulful “SOS Stop Her on Sight”, and Vera’s poptastic “Lost in London”  – the production’s one original song that is not at all out of place amongst the 60s hits. 

Sadly, this is the last Ovation production at The Gatehouse.  This hugely enjoyable show embodies what it means to go out with a bang.