Entering the Theatre Royal for this upbeat evening of entertainment, there is absolutely no mistaking which era you are embracing. The retro set – complete with glitter balls and lurid furniture – is complemented the flamboyant costumes of the 70’s, where tank tops, flares and patterned shirts ruled the fashion of the day.
I was totally transported back to my teens, to a time before mobile phones and social media, where inviting someone in for a coffee meant nothing more than just that. Teenagers waited with bated breath to see which pop-star pin-up would fill the centre pages of their favourite magazine – the Jackie of the title – and believed that reading about other people’s problems on the agony-aunt page could help them find true love.
But alas, as we grow older, we learn that love isn’t quite so simple. In this case, we meet a slightly sardonic woman also called Jackie (played by Janet Dibley), who has not long been separated from her husband John (Graham Bickley). Their twenty-year marriage was broken up by John's love for a younger woman, much to Jackie's evident disgust. But now, a year on, Jackie is ready to follow her heart once again.
The production is full of instantly recognisable musical hits played by a visible live band, which on the night I attended, had the audience singing along so loudly that at times the cast could barely be heard. Arlene Phillips’ choreography was simple, effective and so very evocative of the 70’s, allowing the highly energetic ensemble to dance their platform boots off from start to finish.
In a supporting role as Jackie's son David, Michael Hamway added beautifully to the storyline. Hamway’s melodic singing voice coupled with his easy movement made him a pleasure to watch. Best friend Jill (Lori Haley Fox), meanwhile, provides the raucous one-liners, and proves the perfect counterpart to the almost world-weary energy of Dibley.
So this is a highly enjoyable production, but I did find the storyline rather thin, too obviously built around the song titles of the time. One very sudden love interest seems just a little too convenient, as well. On the other hand, I loved the twist in David's secret love story, and Bob Harms’ over-the-top rendition of Puppy Love was so entertaining that I wanted it never to end.
And I clearly wasn’t the only one. The highly appreciative audience – full of women of a certain age – responded enthusiastically at all the right moments, lending the whole occasion the participatory feel of a quality pantomime. The musical medley at the very end had everyone, including me, on their feet singing and dancing along with the cast. This is an infectious production, that I found myself smiling about long after the final song had been sung – and an absolute must for anyone who remembers the legendary comic from their youth.