WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link

Review: Stepping Out (Vaudeville Theatre)

Amanda Holden and Natalie Casey star in Richard Harris' play about a weekly tap class

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In Richard Harris' warm-hearted comedy, we're transported back to the '80s: Maggie Thatcher is PM and the bouffant Lady Di-coiffure is worn with no hint of irony and absolute pride. No-one wears it better than Amanda Holden's busy-body character Vera: hers is huge and golden.

In fact, all the performers carry their horrendous fashion mistakes beautifully. In Maria Friedman's production Robert Jones' designs include costumes that are '80s gruesome: garish tights, leg warmers, leotards and head bands are all over this cast.

You can forgive them somewhat: Harris' play is, after all, set in a dank town hall where seven women and one man gather to learn tap dance on a Thursday night with the upbeat young teacher Mavis - once a pro - and her grumpy pianist Mrs Fraser. The plot follows this group - a mixture of ages and backgrounds - as their relationships progress and their circumstances change.

It's not the most ground-breaking of structures. They are all lonely, in their different ways, and we learn a little about each of them as they learn about each other. There's Holden's uptight, cleaning obsessed Vera, who can't help but put her foot in it, the voluptuous Maxine, played by the excellent Tracy-Ann Oberman, who owns a shop and is happy to get you a bargain, alongside the overworked nurse Lynne – played by Jessica-Alice McCluskey in her first role out of drama school - who encounters the first death of a patient on her watch the day before one of their dance sessions. None of the characters are fully fleshed out, as the script offers only a smattering of details about the truth that lies beneath.

That lack of depth might be harder to digest in a cast less dedicated than this one. As it is, it's enjoyable watching each of them, from Holden's ridiculous Vera in her shiny silver jumpsuit to Natalie Casey in her awful leggings. Anna-Jane Casey is marvellous as Mavis, playing until 1 April having stepped into the role Tamzin Outhwaite should be playing due to injury. She is perfect in her dance sections and a believable watch elsewhere.

Harris' play is broadly enjoyable and its central message - about being a friend and the importance of having friends – is a message to admire. It's just a pity that these women don't feel more than suggestions of real people: clichés cloud the roles.

Still, everyone loves a tap dance or two, and it is very funny watching the way the group progresses – or doesn't – as they get closer and closer to a showcase. The end payoff, though fairly predictable and very simple, is nonetheless very satisfying. It's enough to encourage anyone to dust off their dancing shoes.

Stepping Out runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until 17 June.