Footloose (Palace Theatre, Manchester)
The musical based on the classic 80s film is revived for a UK tour
Criticising a show like Footloose, is a bit like contemplating the act of kicking a kitten: it'd be nothing short of an unprovoked attack on an innocent creature. What's the point of being cruel when all it wants to do is curl up on your lap and purr?
An adaptation of Dean Pitchford's 1984 film based on the real life town that banned dancing, Footloose does exactly what you'd expect it to do - and you can't be angry with it for that. But it remains a fact that this is musical theatre by numbers: the schmaltzy plot; cardboard cut-out characters; the super-talented cast; clichés piled high upon clichés; boy meets girl schlock; a clap-along climax and enough crotch clutching to make a maiden blush. I could go on.
I could also sit here and criticise the production through the lens of a lifetime of deconstructing drama from a feminist perspective, but again, what would be the point? (Plus, you'd all be bored senseless.) Suffice to say, a plucky cast give it all they've got and look like they're having fun, especially with the big numbers that we all know and er... love.
Racky Plews' direction is a little flat-footed and too linear, with the actors' space to breathe constrained by a clunky set (why do the drums take up so much precious stage? We want to see more dancing!) and an odd conceit that involves the cast occasionally playing their instruments on stage. But it's Gareth Gates (on tour with the show on certain dates) who surprises. He's super. Chockablock with full-bodied magnetism and stage presence, with a mellifluous voice and above all very funny, he steals the show. It made me think that I'd like to see him in more, shall we say, challenging roles.
For me, this revival of 1984's biggest-grossing film is my room 101: it represents the prospect of being locked in a dystopian nightmare of American-accented post-drama school kids forever performing teenage musicals on an eternal loop. For you, it might just be the perfect night out.