I hopped, skipped and two-stepped out of the theatre wanting to sign up for a dance class and continue the fun I had just had watching a dance class having a lot of fun, writes Michael Holland.
Playwright Richard Harris’s Stepping Out started out when his wife said he should check out the local dance class for inspiration. Harris says, ‘I happened to go there and look through the window when a tap dance class was going on. It struck me that they all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves and I thought if I could capture that – the pleasure they are clearly getting out of the class – it might be a winner. So I spent a period researching and going to various dance classes and then wrote the play.’
That research and writing paid off as Stepping Out went on to win the Best Comedy Award in 1984, have a run in Broadway in 1987, and be made into a film in 1991 with Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters starring. Stepping Out is entertaining audiences once again and you will not be disappointed.
A tap-dancing class run by Mavis in a church hall attracts women – and one man – of all shapes, classes and ages to its weekly session. For them it is a social evening but for Mavis it is her way of staying connected to her first love of dancing, something that she wanted for a career but never developed further than ‘chorus girl’.
At each session a little bit more of the glitter is scratched away and we see the sadness of the group’s lives revealed: bad relationships, failed businesses, unwanted pregnancies and a general air of unhappiness. The dance class seems to be the only bit of joy that each person has, so when the group is invited to perform at local charity show they all now have a purpose.
The first half is where the storylines are introduced, setting up the excitement for Act Two, but after the interval nothing was followed through, and no loose ends became tied. What was their connection? What’s wrong with her marriage? Who grassed him up? I found myself quite unfulfilled, but after the big dance routine finish, and when I had time to sit and contemplate the whole picture, it all made sense: The class cannot be a saviour but at least some respite; it is a microcosm of life, not a solution to life’s problems. Those individuals will continue to have crosses to bear, but, quite literally, the show must go on.
Yes, there are clichéd stereotypes in Stepping Out, and much of the time it is like a sitcom, with its mix of understated performances and others hugely over the top. This, though, adds to the comedy. Some characters had no comic lines at all, but came across as hilarious merely by their demeanour. Others had great comedic lines but added nothing to the narrative. There is a hilarious scene where they have to bring canes for a routine and they arrive with such makeshift items as riding crops, golf clubs, umbrellas, feather dusters and a crutch. The hat situation was also as funny. You can predict the end – But you would not want it any other way.
David Ball, directing and choreographing, does an excellent job of marshalling this troupe, especially when I would guess that some of them have had no prior dance training – Which adds to the ethos of what Stepping Out is about. Star of the show is Christina Meehan as the very patient Mavis. She plays the part of a teacher coaxing her students on to bigger and better things so well that she, as well as the dancing she ultimately draws from them, is worth the ticket money alone. This is feel good theatre to the max.
Stepping Out is on at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, SE4 2DH until July 7th. Times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Admisssion; £16, £13 concs. Phone: 0333 666 3366