Review: Stepping Out, Union Theatre

Barbara King as Mavis. Photo: Adam Hills

For a heartwarming and entertaining theatre, you can’t beat Richard Harris’ widely acclaimed hit Stepping Out and this vivacious revival at the Union Theatre doesn’t disappoint. Set in a church hall, a group of amateur tap dancers meet weekly, more to have a laugh rather than become accomplished dancers. This motley crew of eight (including one lone man, Geoffrey) comes in all shapes and sizes and their teacher patiently steers them through her class while soothing her grumpy old pianist. Soon this gang agrees to performing at a charity event which means having to learn and master a new routine within a short period of time. This, undoubtedly, causes a lot of stress and creates friction between the characters, exposing the cracks in their domestic lives. Despite the rowdy talk by some of the female students, we realise that the weekly tap dancing class is an escapist route for all the characters.

This piece gives each character more or less equal weighting and the cast also works well together as an ensemble although there are moments when there is a lack of chemistry between the characters. Two striking performances come from Helen Jeckell’s snooty but deeply lonely Vera and Catherine Millsom’s brassy Sylvia whose partner is a benefits thief. Alexander Giles gives us a credible Geoffrey who copes admirably with a group of boisterous women. Rest of the cast delivers a polished performance although Barbara King’s character, Mavis the teacher, is at times a tad cold for someone shepherding this group through the dance routine.

One of the great things about this play is its versatility and it is a shame that this production is set in the 1980s rather than 2011 although there are a couple of contemporary references. These characters were created over 25 years ago but they are still well and alive in our society today; not to mention the relevancy of this play to our political and economical backdrop. Some of the scene changes in Act I seem a little disjointed but Act II flows more naturally. There is a nice foreword by Richard Harris in the programme where he explains how he got his idea for Stepping Out. His words should be suitable encouragement for budding playwrights.

On the whole, this delightfully charming production is one to escape to from the gloomy news and events that pervade our lives. I didn’t want it to end but I shall be looking for my nearest tap dancing school.

★★★★☆
Until 10 December.
Performance time: 2 hours and 15 mins with an interval.
Written by Richard Harris.
Directed by David Ball.

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About manipillai

Oh, just a few of my thoughts on theatre.
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