Footloose

March 16, 2018 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆    Nostalgic

King’s Theatre: Wed 14 – Sat 17 Mar 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

There are some decidedly impressive production numbers in the Bohemians’ production of Footloose at the King’s. Add in some excellent singing and you have a show that will please a lot of people with fond memories of the 1980s.

The original 1984 film about Ren, the city boy who seeks to overturn a small town’s ban on dancing, certainly has an enduring following – not least because of some hugely successful songs – and Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford’s 1998 musical adds more musical numbers.

Footloose. Pic Richard Moir

The trouble is that it is an extremely slight affair. Some of the movies’s more dramatic moments, such as the game of chicken with tractors, are unsurprisingly missing. So is the hint of extremism represented by the book burning, and what is left is decidedly thin.

The whole idea of a musical about a dance-free zone is an odd one. It does throw up the potentially fascinating idea of an all-singing-no-dancing affair, but instead we have the distinctly odd situation where folk are castigated for wanting to dance – when that is precisely what large numbers of people around them are doing a great deal of the time.



It is correspondingly difficult to suspend disbelief, but luckily a large and energetic cast compensate for this. Ross MacPherson may not convince as the rebel against authority – indeed, his Ren is so affable it is hard to see why the town takes against him – but he has a wonderful energy and moves extremely well.

stage presence

Felicity Thomas as Ariel, the daughter of the anti-rockist preacher, has a great deal of stage presence, and leads Holding out for A Hero with conviction. It is unfortunate, however, that the love story between Ren and Ariel does not quite convince, at least in part because their voices do not blend together that comfortably on their duet Almost Paradise.

The cast of Footloose from the Bohemians. Pic Richard Moir

That some of the characterisations do not convince is partly the fault of the material, and partly due to some of the casting. Just as Ren is not really the brooding anti-hero, so Andrew Knox (Chuck) seems more like a lovable scamp than a potentially dangerous criminal.

This lack of jeopardy extends to much of the action. Fights happen offstage and are skated over; the actions of the Rev Shaw Moore seem purely arbitrary; any conflict between the generations appears artificial. The Rev Moore’s wife Vi (the very impressive Cathy Geddie) tells him that he is a great preacher but struggles at one-to-one contact; the exact reverse is true of the show, where the big picture seems irrelevant but the more intimate relationships ring true.

Christopher Cameron, as the minister, excels in his scenes with Geddie and Thomas, who shine in a trio with Ciara McBrien (Ren’s mother Ethel) on Learning To Be Silent. One of the musical’s definite strengths is the way the songs are shared out, with another trio – Somebody’s Eyes, featuring Charlotte Jones, Sophie Harpur and Jo Heinemeier as Ariel’s friends Rusty, Urleen and Wendy-Jo – is a definite highlight.

compelling

Jones, indeed, is the most impressive singer on display, with her rendition of Let’s Hear It for the Boy the most compelling song of the night, and a moment where everything seems suddenly to shift into a higher gear. This is helped greatly by Thomas McFarlane’s clowning as the supposedly non-dancing Willard. McFarlane’s assured comedy is greatly welcome in a script that is generally light on laughs.

A scene from Footloose. Pic: Richard Moir

This production is certainly not light on spectacle, however, with an ensemble of nearly 60, who are well served by Dominic Lewis’s excellent choreography and the notably supple, responsive backing of musical director Finlay Turnbull and his musicians. Director Malcolm J Burnett deserves great praise for marshalling such massive resources, while Andrew Layton should be congratulated for costumes that impress without going for the faux-80s fake nostalgia look that so many would have fallen for.

Much of the appeal of this show must be down to nostalgia, however, as the musical itself is not built on the strongest of foundations, with so much of it past its use-by date that it veers dangerously close to self-parody. Accordingly, it is least convincing when it tries to make something so ludicrous appear serious, and most convincing when it simply revels in its own silliness.

An example of this would be the protracted curtain call and closing medley – something that is often distinctly unwelcome, but which here is probably the highlight of the whole production, not least because it is the time when the cast really seem to cut loose. There must be a song in that somewhere.

Running time 2 hours 25 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Wednesday 14 – Saturday 17 March 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm,; Saturday matinee 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: http://www.capitaltheatres.com/footloose.

The Bohemians website:www.bohemians.org.uk
Facebook: @bohemiansedinburgh.
Twitter: @Bohemians_Ed

ENDS

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