Stepping Out, Vaudeville Theatre | reviews, news & interviews
Stepping Out, Vaudeville Theatre
Stepping Out, Vaudeville Theatre
Maria Friedman's revival of frothy comedy
Richard Harris's award-winning comedy about a group of seven women and one man who attend a weekly tap-dancing class in a dingy north London church hall ran for three years from 1984 in the West End, from where it went to Broadway. It subsequently became a film starring Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters, and then Harris wrote a musical version which hit the West End in 1997. Director Maria Friedman now revives the dramatic version, with choreography by Tim Jackson.
Over the course of several months we get to know this disparate group as they chatter about their work, home and sex lives. We realise that for some it's just a few hours' release from a humdrum life; for others, it's a form of therapy.
There’s posh Vera, mouthy Maxine, bubbly Sylvia, blundering Dorothy, eager Lynne, cheerful Rose and awkward Andy – plus the sole male in the class, Geoffrey. At the piano is the wonderfully cantankerous Mrs Fraser (Judith Barker stealing every scene) and, trying to turn them into Gingers and Freds, the ever-patient Mavis (Anna-Jane Casey, womanfully stepping in for the indisposed Tamzin Outhwaite, who rejoins the cast next month). The hook is that they plan to appear, for one night only, at a charity show and it's Mavis's job to get them in line and in time.
Much of the comedy – apart from the deliberately bad dancing – comes from personality clashes among the tappers, chiefly the one-upmanship between Vera (Amanda Holden), the newcomer to the group who suffers from foot-in-mouth disease, and frock-shop owner Maxine (Tracy-Ann Oberman). “I used to be fat, you know,” Vera says carelessly to Sylvia (Natalie Casey); Maxine, meanwhile, has the best one-liners of the evening. “I hope your sex life is as busy as that pullover,” she says to sweet, charming Geoffrey (Dominic Rowan).
As the charity show looms, tensions rise in the group as the routines become more complicated and, while some find their feet, others struggle. Their back stories are revealed as they hang about the hall after class – and, it turns out, everyone has “a thing” – whether loneliness, an inattentive husband, money problems or worries about their child's future.
Holden (pictured above by Ray Burmiston) and Oberman are terrific in roles that could easily be overplayed, and the counterpoint to the broad comedy is the suggested love interest between Geoffrey and Andy (Lesley Vickerage), which is nicely nuanced. Friedman directs efficiently and Robert Jones's design is a pleasing collection of Eighties big hair, legwarmers and bright block colours.
The exposition is at times clunky – you always know when somebody is Saying Something Important – and having 10 main characters means there's little time to expand the dancers' stories, which are left without resolution. But you could say that's how life works, and the actors all make their characters as credible as possible.
But Stepping Out is not meant to be deep. It's a frothy confection with a heartwarming ending, and good fun.
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