“There are moments where darker or more serious subjects are hinted at, which could have been pushed further”
“Remember the three T’s”, Mavis tells her class of tap dancers, prior to their first public performance. “Teeth, tits, and taps.” That’s right, it’s time to get those jazz hands out and tapping feet at the ready for the latest production of the heart-warming show Stepping Out. In an updated, 21st-century twist on the 1984 play by Richard Harris, this new version is charming and convivial, a bundle of easy-going joy to watch.
Former professional dancer Mavis teaches adult tap dancing classes every Thursday night in a grotty, north London church hall for the locals. The bumbling bunch of ladies, and Geoffrey, who regularly attend, lean more towards having two left feet than twinkle toes. And to top things off, Mavis must resolve the spats and dramas that explode between this motley crew, before any dancing can commence. Whilst the play may feature around (rather unsuccessfully) learning dance routines, it is the love, laughter, tears and tales these everyday folk share with one another that makes the audience want to keep coming back to class with them.
Christina Meehan as Mavis holds everything together wonderfully, giving a very naturalistic and earthy performance, a nice contrast to the loud, mouthy brashness of the likes of Sylvia (Jessica Brady) and Maxine (Lynn Beaumont). Emily Sitch and Sean McDowell give understated yet just as powerful turns as the quieter members of the group, Andy and Geoffrey. Whilst, Helen Jeckells as the no bars held OCD housewife Vera offers some of the best lines of comedy gold throughout the show.
The story may be rather slight, with no real dramatic plot line, but what makes this kitchen sink-style play so likeable, are the recognisable characters whom we all can associate to our own lives. It is the sense of familiarity that truly makes this a winner. There are moments where darker or more serious subjects are hinted at, which could have been pushed further, however, it must be remembered that class is a place where these characters throw away their everyday troubles and want to let loose. Consequently, with the addition of catchy classic swing band tunes and top hats and canes, you yourself will be tapping your way out of the theatre before you know it.
“fast, furious, and sophisticated; littered with delightful bunburying and Wilde’s beloved familiar quotes”
I decided years ago that the great thing about ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ is that it is difficult to over-act Wilde’s indignant characters in this play; they are all larger than life. Yet while it revels in stereotypes, the twists and turns we are taken through are not entirely predictable as they lead us to a wonderfully implausible conclusion!
The plot is deceptively simple: a man wishes to marry a woman. But the path to true love raises a few issues along the way like fake identities and disapproving families. These issues lead to more issues, which uncover further issues … which tangle issues even more.
From the start I loved the black and white set, a great backdrop allowing the hugely colourful characters to take centre stage. It was altered just the once to move the action from inside to out, meaning the entire play rested on the performance and the script.
The cast managed to balance the absurdity of the unfolding farce with clarity and what seemed like ease as the play rapidly progressed. The physical comedy required was dependent on expression and small movement, even occasional stillness, to heighten the constant quick witted dialogue full of wit and wisdom. The script was fast, furious, and sophisticated; littered with delightful bunburying and Wilde’s beloved familiar quotes, and delivered beautifully and comically by all on stage.
Both Daniel Hall and Riley Jones (as Algy/Ernest and John/Ernest) confidently trade raised eyebrows, cutting insults and quips like old adversaries. The ladies they fall in love with, Gwendolen and Cecily (played by Sophie Mercell and Emily-Rose Clarkson), sparkle in repartee with their beloved young men, and in both their burgeoning friendship and barely veiled animosity for each other. The dominating Lady Bracknell (played by Harriet Earle) was withering in tone and gaze, while the sneakily pivotal Miss Prism (Kate Sanderson) and bumbling Dr Chasuble (Scott Barclay) were amusingly simpering. Finally, The Butler, played brilliantly by Daniel Desiano-Plummer, as two separate servants at two separate locations, was understated and a constant source of amusement with muted actions in the background often creating distracting laugh out loud moments
Collectively the cast moved fluidly in action and prose, glossing over a couple of tiny script stumbles and a minor injury very professionally. The audience was constantly laughing, from giggles to guffaws. It seemed to me that the actors grew in confidence as the show unfolded and they settled into the pace. The production was good to start with and strengthened gloriously as the story unfolded. I left with the sound of laughter ringing in my ears and a smile on my face.