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What A Non Feeling!

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A few months ago I spent a whirlwind weekend in the West End checking out three very different productions; Stephen Sondheim's Passion at The Donmar, Ira Levin's Deathtrap and what was expected to be a good replacement for Hairspray - Flashdance.

Passion was first and the atmosphere in the Donmar was amazing - with the audience engaging with the material and the fantastic performances. The same went for Deathtrap, as audiences laughed out loud and jumped in all the right places. But when it came to Flashdance, there was simply no atmosphere in the Shaftesbury Theatre. Granted, this movie-inspired musical is not Shakespeare and there are some scenes, like Alex's grief explored via Arlene Phillip's high energy choreography - which look slightly out of place. But, the lead - Victoria Hamilton Barritt gives a show stopping performance as do the supporting cast and Matt Willis. The dance scenes are exhilarating and the thanks to Nicolai Foster's spirited direction, the show is simply great fun. From the moment where Alex takes off her welder's mask to the iconic audition, through to the feelgood ending - Flashdance should leave you dancing like a maniac throughout the megamix.

So, why when I went along - was this not the case? The audience were simply not up for it. Apart from the odd whoop - there was no real engagement. People chomped sweets, sure and texted. But I could not help thinking how much more reciprocal a Manchester/Liverpool audience would have been. There was almost a self conscious air within the theatre. This might sound even more unexpected when you consider it was a Friday night. I left the theatre, having enjoyed the show but not the overall experience.

As I said, Flashdance is not high art. But if an audience gives a show respect, the cast step it up and the atmosphere travels way beyond the stalls. As it was, the cast gave it their all but they received very little back. In stark contrast - whenever I see a touring musical at Manchester's Palace theatre, you can sense the excitement before the curtain rises. Even if it is an old warhorse like Joseph, the audience arrive, wanting to have a good time. But here, people simply looked like they had wandered in blindly, or had even been parachuted in. Maybe heavy discounting is to blame, leaving many audience members unaware of what they are watching, remnscent of a guy who asked what Snakes On A Plane was about in a cinema queue years ago!

Either way, considering that Grease and Dreamboats and Petticoats remain in London, Flashdance should not be closing as it is far superior to these two. Having lived in Manchester for the last 11 years, going to a West End show feels like an event to me - which I totally buy into, even though I review in the North West constantly. I just wish that this was the case for everyone, then more shows would thrive instead of close early. I realise that shows flop because of far more than this, but as a theatregoer, you do always remember how others received a show who are sat around you. As a Southerner who has moved up North, I have noticed the differences in the audiences, have you?

Good luck to the cast of Flashdance as they prepare to bow out of London. The regions will welcome you with open arms, should the producers decide to tour the show and like Alex, we will dance like we have never danced before.

Flashdance is at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 15 January. For more details, click here.

See our review here.


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