Saturday Night Fever

Feb 11 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Disco flaw

Festival Theatre: Tue 10 – Sat 14 Feb, 2015

There is a fever for disco about this musical adaptation of the 1977 movie, a fever which sparks and splutters enticingly, but never really breaks into the inferno it might be.

Playing the Festival Theatre for a week, Saturday Night Fever does much to rekindle memories of the original, some 40 years after it thrust John Travolta onto cinema screens.

Danny Bayne and Naomi Slights. Photo: Nobby Clark

Danny Bayne and Naomi Slights. Photo: Nobby Clark

Danny Bayne has all the moves as 19-year-old Tony Manero, living through the mid-seventies in New York. If the winner of ITV’s Grease Is The Word doesn’t possess Travolta’s camera-pleasing charisma, he has a lovely fluid sense of movement as he casually throws off perfectly timed routines.

It’s not just about the dancing, however, as the the production digs deep into Tony’s life. He lives for Saturday night at the Odyssey disco, an escape from his fractured home, the working class poverty of the time and his dead-end job in a paint store.

As a consequence, the dancing itself has a tendency to get a bit left behind. The only time the show really gets down amongst the dancers on the disco floor is in the Act 1 closer, You Should Be Dancing, where a disoriented Tony finds suddenly himself alone and lost in the middle of the floor – itself full of dancers lost in the music. It’s a great moment that begins to capture the feeling of being in a disco.

There are other strong dance sequences, of course, as the plot winds towards the great dance competition at the Odyssey which Tony is sure he can win, if only he can get the right partner. Bethany Linsdell is a strong mover as the misguided Annette who fancies Tony and starts out as his dance partner but gets dumped when he spots the sensual Stephanie (Naomi Slights).

The various scenes of them practising for the competition allow all three to put in some strong dance sequences but also bring out some depth of characterisation.

outspoken depth

One of the strengths of the original film, the Bee Gees soundtrack and Travolta’s performance aside, was the range and outspoken depth of topics it covered. Above the base of Tony’s casual sexism and the ingrained racism of the time there are pre-AIDS casual sex, date rape, unwanted pregnancy, drug taking, class struggle, poverty and, above it all, the failure of organised religion to engage with its congregation.

The Odyssey club. Photo Nobby Clark

The Odyssey club. Photo Nobby Clark

All these are in the musical and brought out in this production, but Ryan McBride’s direction doesn’t cope with the fact that there is so much of it. The whole piece feels as if it can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be – glittery musical or hard-hitting play – and thus ends up being neither.

Part of the problem is that Tony has too much singing to do. Bayne has a nice enough voice, but it just gets lost in the mix and detracts from his dance performance. It isn’t necessary and the rest of the cast do a good job most of the time, with CiCi Howells excellent as the Club Singer.

The music is played live, most of it on stage, with the wind and brass players often playing as they perform in crowd scenes. This gives an immediacy to the show, adding a strong atmospheric feel as it moves across New York. But sadly a rather muddy mix reduces the impact of the music itself. It all lacks the crispness you would expect of these numbers.

The staging works well, though. A trio of movable square cubicles on stage serve as booths in the disco with mirrored backs, but can turn into the bridge to Manhattan which could provide Tony’s escape, or simply the upstairs in his parents’ house, or the DJ and singers podia at the Galaxy.

There is plenty to like about this big, ambitious production. It has a large and strong cast, who all deliver satisfying individual performances. But sadly, the whole never quite achieves its potential in any one direction.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including 1 interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 February 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm; Matinees Thurs & Sat, 2.30pm.
Tickets and details from:

Buy the OCR of the musical; and the original movie, its soundtrack and novelisation on Amazon:

Saturday Night Fever on tour:
10 – 14 Feb 2015 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
Box Office: 0131 529 6000 Book online
17 – 21 Feb 2015 Blackpool
Grand Theatre
01253 290 190 Book online
24 –  28 Feb 2015 Milton Keynes
0844 871 7652 Book online
3 – 7 March 2015 Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
10 – 14 March 2015 Bradford
Alhambra Theatre
01274 432000 Book online
17 – 21 March 2015 Birmingham
0844 871 3011 Book online
24 – 28 March 2015 London
Richmond Theatre
0844 871 7651 Book online
31 March – 4 April 2015 Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online


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