Best Boot Forward

September 13, 2018 | By | Reply More

These Kinky Boots are for everyone says star Callum Francis

When the mega hit musical Kinky Boots was announced as the Edinburgh Playhouse’s Christmas show, there were murmurings of discontent on social media that it was suitable neither for the season nor for a family audience.

“They were just going on the title,” explains Playhouse theatre director Colin Marr, speaking after the press launch of the show in Edinburgh, adding with a laugh, “It is SUCH a family show.”

Callum Francis (centre) with Connor Collins and Jason Winter at the Kinky Boots press launch in Edinburgh. Pic Rob McDougall

Callum Francis (centre) with Connor Collins and Jason Winter at the Kinky Boots press launch in Edinburgh. Pic: Rob McDougall

Given the name and the branding, those keyboard warriors might be forgiven for getting their Twitter all in a twist. Not that you would want to change either – it is such a snappy title and those long red thigh-length boots provide a properly iconic image.

Yet in terms of plot, Kinky Boots is not so much about the boots themselves, but the company that diversified into making sturdy but fabulous boots to keep itself alive and its employees in work.



Kinky Boots is based on the true story of a family firm running a small factory making shoes which is about to go out of business – until the idea of making outsize boots for the drag market comes to the reluctant new owner, Charlie.

It was first told in a 1999 episode of Trouble at the Top on BBC2, was made into a film in 2005 and almost immediately picked up as a potential musical. It finally made it to Broadway in 2013 with with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

Fathers and sons

Wrapped up in that tale, there is another story about ambitious fathers and their reluctant sons, according to Callum Francis who has been performing in the show since 2015 and will be playing the drag queen Lola, the character for whom those boots are made, when it arrives in Edinburgh.

“Everybody always asks about the title because of the word kinky,” he says. “But it is so much more than the title. The show is more than these boots; it is about two people that are completely different – to look at – but you learn to love them and find out they are the exact same.”

Kinky Boots London company 2017-2018. Pic: Matt Crockett

He adds that the father-son relationship is one which isn’t much spoken about in society. Specifically, the ones in the musical are between fathers who want something different for their sons from what their sons end up wanting for themselves.

“To be a man is a hard thing and to be masculine and follow in your father’s footsteps. For some reason it is seen as weak for men to feel and to hurt,” he says.

“That is the best part about the show. You see these two very different blokes, one in a dress and one not – it doesn’t matter because they both hurt exactly the same. When you see the two guys hurting, you feel like you can too – you feel they are giving you permission to go ‘It is okay to not be okay’.

“Charlie’s father owns the shoe factory and sadly passes and leaves the factory to Charlie. Then Lola speaks of her dad, and you learn their relationship throughout (the show).”

Robinson Crusoe

Francis is no stranger to Edinburgh’s stages. He performed in the King’s panto back in 2009, Robinson Crusoe, with Grant Stott as Hook and Moyo Akande as Girl Friday, and has strong memories of spending Hogmanay on the Mound.

“I was one of the dancing boys in the panto,” he told Æ. “We did a jungle number and I was in this loincloth. It was so many years ago – if you find pictures, burn them! But it was so much fun.”

Francis already had a strong background in musical theatre when he joined Kinky Boots as it opened in the West End. Initially he was understudy to Matt Henry, who won an Olivier for his portrayal of Lola, before going on to play the role for two years in the Australian production. He is back in the UK to take on the role for the first part of the tour.

If he has become accustomed to performing in six inch heels, it wasn’t always so. The first time he had the makeup and the wigs on, looking in the mirror was strange. He adds that even if he doesn’t look like his mother, people who know them both can see her mannerisms in his performance.

Callum Francis in the Kinky Boots. Pic: Darren Bell

Callum Francis in the kinky boots. Pic: Darren Bell

It’s not just the look, either. “Singing is different because of the way you are stood,” he says. “Your back is arched more than it normally would, so it changes the way you have to breathe and the way you hold yourself. I was worried after a while that when I took heels off and I had to sing that I wouldn’t be able to!”

Edinburgh is unique on the tour as it will have two different Lolas pulling on the boots. Francis is performing the role until 15 December, then West End star Kayi Ushe will take over from 17 December.

And while Francis is adamant that Ushe will attract the same standing ovations the show has had for every performance, he admits that every new actor who takes on the role brings something different to their take on Lola.

“No one is like my Lola and I am like nobody else’s,” he says. “It changes the dynamic of the show – Lola along with Charlie are the driving forces of the show. With two different Lolas, people can come and see it here at the beginning and come back again and it will be completely different.”

So who is Lola?

“She is Simon,” says Francis. “She was born as Simon and creates this character and this world that she escapes to. I think maybe it was an act that she did and then it kind of stuck, because it was where she felt most comfortable.

“Simon is very different. He is quiet, he is not comfortable in his own skin; it is uncomfortable sometimes for people to watch, and then you see him transform back to Lola and you think yes, I understand why.”

responsibility

While everyone who sees the show says the role of Lola must be a dream to play, Francis sees it differently.

“I see it as a responsibility,” he says. “Because there are people like Simon and Lola out there. So I get to spread the message and say ‘It’s okay to be weird, it is okay to be different’.”

It is this message of inclusion which gives the show its soul, but its heart belongs to pure, feel-good entertainment.

“I’ve done the show for three years and we have had a standing ovation every show we have ever done. Not because people were going ‘Oh you were a great performance, we are going to stand up and respect that’. It is because people want to, they want to get up and dance at the end.”

In terms of full-on family Christmas entertainment, you don’t get much better than that. And you can put that in your keyboard and tweet it!

Listings and links

Kinky Boots
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
10 December 2018 – Saturday 5 January 2019
Tickets from www.atgtickets.com.  Click here for tickets & details.

Kinky Boots tour website: www.kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk.

The 2005 movie and the West End Cast recording of the musical are available from Amazon. Click the images for details:
 

 

Kinky Boots on tour:
19 Sept – 6 Oct 2018 Northampton 
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811 Book online
16 – 27 Oct 2018 Wolverhampton 
Grand Theatre
01902 429212 Book Online
29 Oct – 10 Nov 2018 Newcastle 
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book Online
12 Nov – 1 Dec 2018 Manchester 
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book Online
10 Dec 2018 – 05 Jan 2019 Edinburgh 
Playhouse
0844 871 3014 Book Online
14 – 26 Jan 2019 Canterbury 
The Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book Online
28 Jan – 9 Feb 2019 Stoke-on-Trent 
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book Online
11 – 16 Feb 2019 Llandudno 
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
18 – 23 Feb 2019 Oxford 
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
25 Feb – 9 March 2019 Bristol 
Hippodrome
0844 871 3012 Book online
11 – 23 March 2019 Birmingham 
Hippodrome
0844 338 5000 Book online
25 March – 6 April 2019 Liverpool 
Empire
08448 713 017 Book online
8 – 20 April 2019 Leeds 
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
23 April – 4 May 2019 Aberdeen 
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
6 – 18 May 2019 Glasgow 
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
27 May – 8 June 2019 Nottingham 
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
10 – 22 June 2019 Sheffield 
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
24 June – 6 July 2019 Sunderland 
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
8 – 20 July 2019 Plymouth 
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
22 July – 3 Aug 2019 Cardiff 
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
3 – 14 Sept 2019 Southampton 
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online

ENDS

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