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Amateurs are putting their faith in Sir Cliff Richard

A long-established West End Operatic Society is to stage Summer Holiday in a bid to stave off a funding crisis

The cast of Summer Holiday which is to be performed by West End Operatic Soiciety at Northern Stage
The cast of Summer Holiday which is to be performed by West End Operatic Soiciety at Northern Stage

Autumn is more than knocking on the door but one of the region’s longest established musical theatre societies is hoping it’s not too late for a summer holiday.

The West End Operatic Society (WEOS) - that’s the West End of Newcastle rather than London’s theatreland - is hoping its production of the musical Summer Holiday will boost its perilously depleted coffers.

The society, which staged its first show in 1949, has had a difficult few years, according to publicist Dorothy Coleman.

Exiled from its traditional venue while the Theatre Royal was being refurbished, the society mounted two successive annual productions - The Full Monty and Calamity Jane - at the Tyne Theatre but on both occasions failed to draw as big an audience.

Returning to the Theatre Royal earlier this year, it presented Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical and was forced to dip into its reserves to cover its costs.

“We had hoped it would make a profit because it’s such a wonderful show and it was being made into a film at the time, or so we were told,” says Dorothy.

“But people only have so much money to spend these days.

“Maybe people are more likely to want to see something they know well rather than something different, which West End has always tried to do.

“We have always alternated an unusual show with a popular show because we’ve got a lot of young members and we want them to have something challenging rather than the old potboilers.”

Nobody would call Sir Cliff Richard an old potboiler and it is to him - in a roundabout way - that the West Enders are turning with a fund-raising production of Summer Holiday.

It is 50 years since the film came out. Cliff, then a slip of a lad, played Don, one of a trio of London bus mechanics who borrowed a double decker and set off on a continental adventure, bumping into a gang of girls on the way.

The film proved as popular as The Young Ones, which Cliff had starred in two years earlier. It was the British box office champion of 1963.

The stage version came along in 1996, adapted from the screenplay by Michael Gyngell and Mark Haddigan and opening in Blackpool with Darren Day in the Cliff role of Don.

Musical theatre societies across the country have seized on the film’s 50th anniversary to woo the punters with a feel-good tale suffused with Cliff magic.

In the North East the production will take the WEOS to Northern Stage for the first time. The show will be performed on the Newcastle theatre’s main stage from September 17-21.

“The staff there have been so helpful,” says Dorothy appreciatively.

Cast in the role of Don is 20-year-old Michael Skoyles, from Prudhoe, whose grandparents met when they were members of the WEOS.

Playing singer Barbara - following American actress Lauri Peters who brought her to life in the film - is 17-year-old Hannah Brown, a pupil at Durham High School for Girls and singer in a band called Shadow of Doubt.

It is the first principal role for both of them and it seems much is riding on their shoulders and on those of fellow cast members.

“We’re hoping that with Summer Holiday we can get some extra money in because it would be a shame if the society has to fold after all this time,” says Dorothy.

“It is a serious situation. We haven’t scheduled another show at the Theatre Royal but we hope to go back there in 2015 if we’re successful in our fund-raising.”

For some long-serving members this is an auspicious year. The National Operatic and Dramatic Association is due to present Dorothy, her husband Derek and Eunice Davidson with medals to mark, respectively, their 50, 40 and 65 years of service with the Newcastle-based society.

Tickets for Summer Holiday can be bought from the box office. Tel. 0191 2305151 or book online at www.northernstage.co.uk


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