Stepping Out – The Musical

May 12, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

★★★☆☆      Crisp

Edinburgh Academy: Wed 11 – Sat 14 May 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Delicate touches and gutsy performances allow the Twilighters to rise above Stepping Out – The Musical‘s shortcomings in their inaugural production.

Set in the cauldron of emotions that is a tap dance evening class, Richard Harris’ book of his own play has plenty going for it, but suffers from an overly lumpy exposition.

Fiona Robertson, Elaine Clark and Janice Bruce. Photo The Twilighters

Fiona Robertson, Elaine Clark and Janice Bruce. Photo The Twilighters

A group of eight disparate characters – and it as turns out all quite desperate too in their own ways – turn up religiously to take part in Mavis’ weekly tap dance class in a fusty church hall.

The class is all about having fun, and the different women (with token man) have abilities ranging from the competent to the inept. Which is no real concern, until Mavis is asked to provide a routine for a big charity gala, featuring all the local evening classes.

Plot problems to one side, this is the perfect vehicle for this sparkly new company that has, as its core, a supergroup of leading ladies of the Edinburgh amateur scene who are coming to musical theatre for the second time.

Which means that there is no problem in having an overburden of strong characters – each of the ten performers is more than able to give depth and understanding to theirs with the most flimsy of structural support from their lines.

natural as breathing

Claire McVicar keeps it all running smoothly in the central role of Mavis, whose exposition is perhaps the smoothest told of the lot. McVicar makes the taking of the class itself natural as breathing, bringing little verbal tics into her performance and building such depth that her explosive revelation towards the end is as obvious (in hindsight) as it is well delivered.

Alistair Thomas and Lesley Ward. Photo The Twilighters

Alistair Thomas and Lesley Ward. Photo The Twilighters

Jacqueline Hannan provides a deal of comic support as the class’s elderly accompanist, Glenda, who keeps a constantly disapproving but watchful eye on Mavis.

The centre of the dance class is the triumvirate of outspoken Maxine (Janice Bruce) with best pals: sex-mad sexagenarian Sylvia (Fiona Robertson) and her sidekick Rose (Elaine Clark) both of whom have difficulties co-ordinating their feet.

Slightly more peripheral, but never less well-accentuated are Kathryn  Samson as over-busy nurse Lynne, who helps take class at times; and Mairi Beaver as young Dorothy, pushed to the side by the rest and taking her one night off a week from looking after her aged and difficult mother.

If there is going to be any romance here, it will surely occur between Alistair Thomas’ Geoffrey, escaping from the death of his wife, and Lesley Ward’s carefully nervous Andy (it’s long for Anne) – who obviously has her own issues with her often mentioned but never present husband.

electric with potential

Indeed, it is in their first duet, Quite, that director Laura Jordan Reed first shows the real depth of her talent. Over and above the phrasing of the music – given great support from the five-strong band under the musical direction of Alison Rushworth – it is their glances and body language that turns something poignant and slightly maudlin into something electric with potential.

The Twilighters Company stepping out. Photo The Twilighters

The Twilighters Company stepping out. Photo The Twilighters

The final piece of the tap-class jigsaw is the hyperactive, overly-controlling Vera, who joins up to just as the show is starting. Dorothy Johnstone does a superb job in making her believable and irritating, but leaving a chink of humanity and not overdoing the comedy. Which is vital as, in some ways, it is her development as a character that dictates the story-arc of the musical.

Having ten performers on stage who all have relatively equal importance to the plot makes for difficulties in focus. Which is exacerbated as everyone is miked up for the musical numbers – a  really tricky logistical exercise when the focus moves between different conversations taking place on different parts of the stage. It works, but it does need to be a lot more smooth.

What doesn’t need to be more smooth are the tap routines. It is incredibly hard to perform being an out-of-sync dancer without just being bad or a caricature – and the company nail it, big time. Enough that when they do get the routines right, it feels that they have personally got better over the course of the performance. Of course, the routines themselves need to be spot on, and choreographer Janice Bruce is also on the money in that point.

Having set up a series of interesting characters, Richard Harris dashes it all to the ground with the kind of lumpy, obvious exposition and explanation in the last few numbers which just smacks of desperation and a writer running out of ideas.

Its not that the revealed character back-stories are not credible, just the way that they are laid out, when the groundwork to make them believable has been so carefully nurtured and hard won. And poor Janice Bruce as Maxine gets a scene with Andy in Just the Same which comes out of nowhere.

That said, Harris is enough of a pro to know how to leave his audience going home with a spring in their step. And in this company, both in the cast and the creatives, there are all the skills to carry that through.

All told, a great debut from The Twilighters, with full praise going to Laura Jordan Reed for pulling the whole production together. It will be fascinating to see what they do next, because there is plenty of scope for more.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (one interval)
Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL
Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 may 2016
Evenings Weds – Fri: 7.30pm.
Matinee only, Sat 14: 2.30pm.

ENDS

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  1. Alan Gillespie says:

    So sorry I missed this! I demand tickets for your next production.

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