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Saturday Night Fever at the Peacock Theatre – review

The stage version of the hit movie lands in London

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Saturday Night Fever
© Paul Coltas

What are the first things that come to your mind when you think of Saturday Night Fever? A white suit, slick disco dancing and the iconic music of The Bee Gees? All those things are present in this Bill Kenwright production of the musical adaptation of the Travolta classic, but unfortunately, there's quite a lot missing for this show to really light up the dance floor.

Following the plot of the film (and with dialogue lifted straight from it), the show tells the story of Italian American Tony Manero. Living in '70s Brooklyn, he works in a paint shop by day and spends his Saturday nights at the local discotheque where he is king of the dance floor. Tony dances to escape his family and societal pressures (namely gang violence). When the chance to win a cash prize at a dance competition arises, Tony sets out to find a dance partner to help him win and maybe escape.

As a musical, Saturday Night Fever is confused. It is unsure whether it wants its characters to sing the fantastic disco tunes or just be soundtracked by them, so has a mixture. Often the "Bee Gees" (Jake Byrom, James Hudson and Oliver Thomson, all excellent) sing numbers from a platform, and in other cases the characters break out into song. Annette (Jasmin Colangelo) for example, sings "If I Can't Have You" while doing laps around the stage. It also doesn't know if it wants to lean into the hard-hitting plot or be something fun. Frankly, it is farcical to watch sweet Bobby C (Kevin O'Dwyer) sing "Tragedy" whilst in a deep depression, and a whole number is dedicated to Tony putting on his white suit – the audience whoops as he slowly zips up his trousers.

For a show which should be known for its high energy dance numbers, sadly Bill Deamer's choreography is unimaginative and repetitive. The ensemble performs in lines, reminiscent of themed dance fitness classes, and the numbers don't ignite in the way they should. Characters aimlessly filter across the stage, and an unnecessary dream sequence in act two feels like a first draft.

In the central role of Tony, Richard Winsor certainly has the dance chops (though perhaps more classical than disco), dancing Deamer's choreography with ease. He's quite sullen-faced though, and lacks charm. To be fair, it is hard to root for a protagonist who is rude, misogynistic and sexually assaults women, no matter how well they tear up the dance floor or notice one singular act of racial injustice. Olivia Fines as snobby dance partner Stephanie injects more character into her role, but there's still not much for her to do. She's a fantastic dancer though, with hints of electricity during her partnered moments with Winsor. None of the characters are likeable at all, and so the rest of the cast do well with what they are given, with questionable accents.

No matter how iconic a film may be, sometimes it's just worth leaving it in the past. An adaptation could amend some of the problems of this piece – particularly the final third of the show where suicide and sexual assault come right after each other, a strange finale for a show that's supposed to be feel-good. The undercurrent of racially motivated gang violence isn't threaded through the show enough to cause any real tensions so when it does happen it feels a bit left-field. Misogyny may have been rife in the 70s, but, watching in 2022, it's sickening to constantly hear comments repeatedly referring to women as "bitches or nice girls" and seeing a female character actively apologise for being raped. Naturally, as in the film, there are no real consequences for the male characters – they just get to "strut". Do we need to see this on stage, at this moment in time?

But don't worry, there's an extended disco megamix at the end to perk up your spirits and make you forget everything before it - and remember to purchase a feather boa on your way out as a souvenir!

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