Writer: Richard Harris
Director: Maria Friedman
Musical Arranger: Chris Walker
Choreographer: Tim Jackson
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
Chichester Festival Theatre has had some notable triumphs in recent months featuring, among other things, technical wizardry, innovative approaches to old classics, hard-hitting political drama always including something fresh to make the audience sit up and pay attention. This production of Richard Harris’ play, however, does little to continue that trend.
It starts well in so far as Robert Jones’ set of a slightly run-down local hall, complete with gym equipment, grimy windows and old-fashioned theatre stage, creates an initial impression just by its lifelike familiarity, but there is little else that really sparkles.
The play follows the progress of a Thursday evening tap dancing class whose members, all female bar one, progress mundanely from week to week through the first act with the occasional burst of histrionics and a series of revelations about their daily lives. They are then invited to perform in a local show and the second act shows them thrown more intensely under the spotlight as they prepare for this performance.
The main problem with it is that it is very predictable. There are moments of farce, there are moments of pantomime, there are moments of tension but the audience sees all these coming a mile off and none of them are ever really developed. Moreover, the play meanders, rather like the plot and the tap class, never seeming able to make up its mind up whether it is playing for laughs or something a bit more serious.
The players do their best and there are some fine moments. Tamzin Outhwaite strikes just the right note as class teacher/organiser Mavis and she keeps the action moving with a display of sympathy and underlying tension. Tracy-Ann Obermann mixes brashness and pathos together as Maxine, one of the more experienced members of the group. Judith Barker does her bit as Mrs Fraser, the old piano-playing retainer, somehow mysteriously linked to Mavis. Amanda Holden, as newcomer Vera, delivers some wonderful completely tactless one-liners and goes enjoyably over the top with her obsession for cleaning.
But therein lies the problem. The audience is not really sure whether this is meant to be realism or caricature and Maria Friedman’s direction never quite gets to grips with this feeling of indecision. Is the music playing meant to be lifelike or not? Is there a purpose to the confidences that the various characters let slip?
It is all rather aimless, and then it ends, although admittedly with a bit of a flourish.
Runs until 19 November 2016 |Image: Contributed