Sometimes you get the feeling that producers wheel out long-standing stars in revivals of once-successful shows just for the sake of it.
Here’s a prime case in point: Anita Harris – who should probably have been made a Dame years ago (and not of the panto variety) – is currently doing the rounds in what’s billed as the “25th Anniversary production” of “the award-winning comedy” Stepping Out.
Given that Anita Harris could probably pull the crowds hanging from a wire and pretending to be a boy – oh, hang on, she did that in Peter Pan, didn’t she? – it seems odd to be casting her in the most unlikeable role in this easy-going, gentle trip out.
Richard Harris (no relation, as far as I know) penned this episodic snapshot of a dysfunctional tap-dance class apparently at the prompting of his wife, who suggested the hoofers at his local community centre might provide an amusing topic for a play.
Amusing, maybe. Sustainable over two and a half long hours? Less convincing. Still funny after 25 years? Unfortunately, the laughs don’t stand the test of time well, and there’s little more than some sub-Last of the Summer Wine humour for most of the evening. Much of this comes from sight gags, too, which always raises alarm bells about the comedy value of a script.
The 11-strong cast are somewhat variable in their audibility, and suffer almost universally from the writer’s over-reliance on caricature, rather than character. Thus, one has a verbal tic, another is large and clumsy, one is black and another – hilariously – a man.
The unfortunate Brian Capron – he of Coronation Street villainy – is lumbered with delivering this two-dimensional creation, whose motivation is never clear and whose actions appear spuriously grafted on to generate what little dramatic tension there is to be found.
At best, it’s harmless and mildly amusing. But that’s hardly enough to justify either the resurrection of an ageing script or the unworthy exploitation of a respected performer.