Bringing Australian sunshine to London: Summer Street at the Waterloo East Theatre

It is high time to kick off the sunny season and because summer is a mindset, I smilingly agreed to see Summer Street, a musical parody of Australian soap operas, at the Waterloo East Theatre. It is a new off-west end venue for me and given I spent over five years commuting almost every day via London’s Waterloo Station I am surprised how close this 100-seat venue is: If you know the way you can reach it by foot in three minutes. Tucked under the old arches of the train line you will hear the occasional train passing ahead but only purists will mind that and there do not seem to be any among us tonight.

Set in Australian suburbia, four ex-soap stars look back to their 1990s days as celebrated actors while struggling to make money and sense of post-fame living and dealing with constant casting refusals. A one-off TV special of Summer Street, the series of their heydays, promises to revitalize their careers and so everyone signs up. Meeting after years for the first time there are a lot of stories to share. How desperate all four still cling on to their roles of years ago hangs in the air, visible for everyone to see: “It was never Shakespeare”, one of them says, “but jeez…!”

Analysing why soaps are not in fashion anymore results in the following thesis: People do not want to watch drama close to their own lives, they want over the top escapism in big budget crime, fantasy and sci-fi formats. Or crass reality TV. In the hard business that show business is, it is only a small step from scripted reality from here, from misery and poverty porn and a later twist reveals quite a conspiracy. Until we get to the finale, I am laughing a lot while admiring the unexpectedly advanced harmonies of the songs. Calling me an expert on any soap operas would be a sheer lie – my only continuous Australian TV experience has been Ocean Girl. I have fun however: The audience though picks up on many characters, references and in-jokes and their laughs combined with actors’ obvious fun on stage are contagious (not sure the guy sitting next to me and eating in the second half a whole pot of yoghurt, spoon by spoon, agrees – strewth)!

Obviously I get most Kylie jokes and take note that everyone can be Neighbours-era Kylie with the right wig. But because I am sitting in row E (the lady sitting ahead of me was not tall) I am missing out on some action when the characters lay down, wrestle or talk to their stuffed dog. The high-quality voices make up for it and three Aperol Spritzs in I pledge that summer will start now: When the calendar summer here on Muddy Island is over, I am flying Down Under myself – and I must not forget to insist that my hosts watch at least one episode of soapy with me: Any recommendations for Australian TV in 2019?

Written and composed by Andrew Norris

**** out of 5 stars

Summer Street played at the Waterloo East Theatre until June 2nd

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