Eleanor Brown in rehearsals for SUMMER HOLIDAY

Eleanor Brown in rehearsals for SUMMER HOLIDAY. Photo Credit: Ray Jefferson, Bolton Camera Club

Eleanor Brown talks to Frankly My Dear UK about taking on the iconic role of Barbara in Bolton Octagon’s innovative site-specific production of 1960s musical SUMMER HOLIDAY

As Bolton’s Octagon Theatre closes its doors for important redevelopment work, the theatre continues their 50th Anniversary season with an exciting new site-specific staging of the much-loved 1960s musical film SUMMER HOLIDAY.

Based on the 1963 film starring Cliff Richard, Melvyn Hayes, Una Stubbs, Ron Moody and The Shadows, SUMMER HOLIDAY tells the story of Don, a young bus driver who arrives with a borrowed double-decker bus ready to take his friends on a journey to sunny Athens.

In this innovative site-specific production, audiences will embark onto six double-decker buses along with actors as they head towards Bolton Town Hall. Songs will be played on the bus before a short scene is performed outside the hall and the remainder of the performance is performed in the Albert Halls.

Ahead of its opening night, Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK caught up with Eleanor Brown who plays Don’s love interest Barbara in the innovative new production to talk about the challenges of putting on a site-specific production and why SUMMER HOLIDAY remains such a classic with audiences.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): Most people will be familiar with the Cliff Richard film but can you start by telling us by what audiences can expect from this particular production of SUMMER HOLIDAY?

Eleanor Brown (EB): The show is full of the same essence of the film. The story is pretty much the same and is still full of adventure, joy and love but it’s brought to life in our production in an immersive way. Because we’re actually getting on the bus, everything you get in the film is even bigger, better and fuller because we all go on a journey together, both the cast and the audience. The music is live as well which brings a real added element of rock ‘n’ roll.

FMD: The original film was set in 1963, has this production been updated for modern day or have you kept it in the 60s era?

EB: We are playing it in 1963 so we are still in the 60s but there is a very modern, fresh essence to it because all of the cast are late teens or early 20s so they’re all kids going on an adventure. We will be dressed with hints of 1960s but we don’t want it to feel dated or like a period piece.

FMD: Music also plays a big part in the film and the stage production. Can we expect to hear some familiar songs or will new original pieces also feature in the show?

EB: Everybody will know the songs. Its all The Shadows and Cliff Richard stuff so it’s everything that was written for the film and the stage production. I think a few more songs have been added in but plenty of songs that everyone will know – Bachelor Boy, The Young Ones, Living Doll.

FMD: How will that work when moving between locations?

EB: We are a cast of actor-musicians, so for the bits outside of the theatre, we’re going to have a recorded element and also a live element. The cast has pre-recorded some of the tracks because we can’t add a drum kit onto a bus so some elements will be pre-recorded but there will be elements of live music all the way throughout. Guitars and things that are portable will be coming on the buses and coming to the town centre with us and then once we’re in the theatre, that’s when its fully live.

FMD: Do you find site-specific productions a challenge? There must be elements you can’t control, such as traffic jams, which can get in the way of the production running smoothly?

EB: I think from the outside it does appear quite daunting but all of us are on the same page and we’re all quite excited for the challenge. The way Elizabeth and Ben, our directors, work they really root everything in truth and they want us to be as comfortable as we can with the script, the story and who we’re playing. We’ve been doing a lot of improvision in the rehearsal room to set us in good stead for when there are things like traffic jams and we have to improvise. Also, we don’t want the audience to feel that the action is shutting on and off. We want them to meet the characters at the very start and to go on a journey with them. We need to stay in character throughout.

FMD: You play Barbara who was played by Lauri Peters in the original film. How would you describe her and what appealed to you about the role?

EB: She is headstrong which is very nice, especially from a film from this era. She could have been a very generic, love interest but she knows what she wants and she goes after it. She has spent her whole life as a successful pop star due to her pushy mum. She has got to a point where she is 19 and she feels she has to experience real life. She’s toured around the States, living with her mum and her agent and not experiencing anything you would normally do as a teenager. She is desperate to get out and during the show she makes that call. She decides to escape and go on an adventure with all these people on the bus and experience all the things she wanted to experience, including love.

FMD: I guess in many ways, while Don is often seen as the main character, it is really Barbara’s story that we follow and her journey?

EB: You’re right. She’s the one and we sort of follow her journey although, particularly for characters in the stage show, everybody has their own revelations and discoveries throughout the piece. That’s the joy to see as they are all experiencing the same things for the first time which is really lovely.

FMD: How have you approached the character? Did you look at previous interpretations or approach it with a fresh perspective?

EB: I tend to try and stay away from watching too much. I did watch the film because I when I got the job, I’d not actually seen the film. I did want to watch it, just as point of reference to know what our audience is expecting and to hopefully build on that rather than steal anything. For me, as soon as I get in the rehearsal rooms, it’s all about what is written on the page and discovering her through that rather than through a second-hand perspective.

FMD: What do you hope people will take away from the production?

EB: I hope people just have the best time. We want people to come in and join us on the adventure, not just watch it, be included in it and to go away with that feeling of excitement and buzz you get when you go away on your first holiday. Also when you have feelings for people and really start to like someone and falling in love, we want everybody to experience all of that.

SUMMER HOLIDAY runs at Bolton Octagon Theatre from 31 May – 23 June 2018