“I just popped into Pineapple for this”
There may be few real surprises to be had at Stepping Out but what Maria Friedman’s production here at the Vaudeville does, is to conjure a marvellously congenial atmosphere which is ideally suited to the play. Written in 1984 by Richard Harris and set the year before, to call this period comedy dated is beyond stating the obvious, its female characters wafer-thin, its gender politics non-existent.
But if it isn’t feminist with a capital F, there’s certainly lower-case feminism at work here, not least in the fact that it offers up 8 out of its 9 roles to women – bucking the male:female ratio that is stubbornly persistent in the West End. We follow this group of women, and the solitary man, as they muddle their way through a weekly tap class, building to the inevitable performance that they have to pull off.
And through these lessons, we get hints of the lives of this motley crew. Their humdrum day-to-day, their unhappy marriages, their frustrated ambitions, in vignettes that are sometimes over before they’ve begun, we get a little closer to them all. And it’s all rather touchingly done – Tracy-Ann Oberman’s brash Maxine, Emma Hook’s (on for an indisposed Natalie Casey) sassy Sylvia, Sandra Marvin’s vivacious Rose, even Lesley Vickerage’s highly-strung Andy, these are people to enjoy spending time with.
And holding them together, just about, is a fine performance from Josefina Gabrielle as dance teacher Mavis (covering for original cast member Tamzin Outhwaite who broke her ankle) – she’s such a charismatic actor, I could watch her for days as she teaches patiently, loses that patience and ultimately dances up a storm. Amanda Holden’s brittle trophy wife is costumed brilliantly in 80s excess and there’s lovely work too from Dominic Rowan as the widowed Geoffrey, who valiantly struggles to find the dancer within.
So I have to say that I really rather enjoyed myself at Stepping Out. Undemanding in the best possible way, it’s high-quality, feel-good entertainment with a sprinkling of tap dancing magic (from choreographer Tim Jackson), and a director adroitly helping her company to elevate the material. A fun night out.