DIRECT from EastEnders, David Essex takes to the stage in Southampton – bringing us a story straight from an East End funfair.

A talented musician, singersongwriter, actor and all-round charmer, his army of fans was out in force, as always, at The Mayflower last night.

They were in a raucous mood and almost certainly wouldn’t agree with me that this isn’t their hero’s finest hour.

Promising a roller-coaster ride of dodgems and motorbikes, for me the tempo is not much more than a jaunt on the teacup ride.

Having said that, there is much to enjoy from this musical, which has improved somewhat since its last visit two-and-a-half years ago.

Around the same length at two-and-a-half hours, they’ve tidied and tightened it up, making the staging slicker and the narrative more coherent. Most importantly, we now get a better insight into the Wall of Death stunt, which is so central to the plot and makes an impressive spectacle on stage.

Essex’s portrayal of widower and fairground owner Levi is laid-back and only truly comes to life in his scenes with Louise English, who is marvellous as she reprises her role of troubled fortune-teller Rosa Lee, his love interest. His interaction with son Jack (Rob Compton) and orphan Jonny (Tim Newman) is often touching. There is comedy and tragedy.

Based on the back catalogue of Essex, I was surprised at how many of his hits – Winter’s Tale, Gonna Make You A Star and Silver Dream – had made their way into my consciousness and that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Rock On scene is particularly amusing.

David Essex always had something of the Gypsy about him, and the singing voice, although fading, retains enough of its distinctive edge.

But his own musical doesn't live up to the drama of his exit from soapland just last week.