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Stepping Out

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Richard Harris wrote Stepping Out more than 25 years ago and the show enjoyed a long run in London. The play has since become a staple of rep theatres up and down the land. It became a slightly unnecessary musical, directed again by Julia McKenzie, who helmed the original play. Bill Kenwright produced the film version where the story was shuffled off to Buffalo and starred Liza Minnelli. Now it is back on tour to celebrate the anniversary.

A dance class meets weekly as a mixed bunch of amateurs seek to tap their troubles away. Gradually we see improvements in their skills and also get to know more about the varied bunch of characters. Every member of the class has a story to tell as it becomes obvious that the weekly evening class is their form of therapy. For most of them the couple of hours in the church hall is a release and an escape from a less than fulfilling life.

Brain Capron is funny and convincing, as the token man, shy and awkward Geoffrey, who does not exactly grasp opportunities with both hands. Anita Harris is the posh and slightly out of place, Vera, who has an uncanny knack of saying just the wrong thing at the wrong time. Janet de Vigne is amusing as the cantankerous old pianist Mrs Fraser. She played the same part in an excellent production at Pitlochry a few years back. As troubled Andy, Johanne Murdock handles her emotionally charged outburst very well.

Director Richard Baron has wisely chosen to leave the show set in the 80s, where lycra and leg warmers bring back painful memories for some in the audience. The dancing is deliberately awful but we will on the Mavis Turner Tappers as they improve and rehearse for their big break in a charity gala. The final scenes don't work as well as I have seen them done in previous productions.

The play is necessarily episodic and some of the characters are thinly sketched but that was always going to be the case with so many stories to tell. One major problem is the audibility of some of the actors. Many lines and laughs are lost along the way. The Festival is a big theatre and not the most suitable venue for relatively small plays. That some of the cast could be heard perfectly well suggests the problem is one of projection and not acoustics. The production as a whole felt somewhat undercast and some of the parts work better with older actresses. However, after 25 years, Stepping Out remains fun, heart-warming and like the weekly tap class, a pretty good night out.

- Keith Paterson


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