It makes fine financial sense for the Oldham Coliseum to stage a tried-and-tested crowd-pleaser and this revival of Stepping Out, directed by Kevin Shaw, ertainly has the requisite bums-on-seats draw but there’s the added bonus of sneaking in a soupcon of political commentary. First staged in 1984 when Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her powers, Richard Harris’ ostensibly light-hearted comedy sneaks many Cold War concerns under the radar.
Stepping Out is ensemble piece revolving around a tap class in a church hall, it has the mix of bawdy humour and melodrama that informed later films and plays – all guaranteed cash-cows – such as Brassed Off, The Full Monty and Calendar Girls. It’s a story told in the broadest of strokes and cliché reigns supreme: there’s the mousy girl with the domineering husband, the shrill socialite (with the domineering husband), the coarse-but-lovable Sylvia from the sink estate (whose husband, while not domineering, is lazy) and the only male member of the cast, accountant Geoffrey.
As our characters get to grips with tap-dancing, their storylines are set up but, after two hours, they are left unresolved leaving the audience – those not hypnotised by the excellent dance routines that make up the final 15 minutes – wondering why we’d been asked to care about these people. One character in particular – the socialite – is given a speech towards the end hinting that her husband is now ‘stepping out’ with her daughter (his step-daughter); intriguing but a highly disturbing bombshell to drop in, apropos of nothing.
But maybe dramatic clarity s too much to ask of an unashamedly low-brow piece of entertainment. What the production has going for it is an infectious enthusiasm and a good solid cast. Worthy of a special mention is newly graduated actress Emma Matthews – she imbues her role as slaggy, saggy Sylvia with an earthy truth that brings to mind a young Kathy Burke; blessed with near-perfect comic timing, if there’s any justice she’ll be a household name within a year.
Judging by last night’s packed theatre of happy punters, the Coliseum
has a hit on its hands; unfortunately this reviewer was left, for the
most part, bored and bemused.