|Date||29th September 2018|
|Venue||The Brindley Theatre, Runcorn|
|Type of Production||Musical|
|Musical Director||Ashley M A Walsh|
Author: Joe Clarke
I returned to The Brindley Theatre tonight to watch the 80’s musical Footloose, performed by Encore Productions. Footloose is best known for the film, starring Kevin Bacon and Sarah Jessica Parker and was a huge hit at the box office. This musical holds a special place in my heart; having performed in the European Tour back in the early 2000’s, directed by Christopher Malcolm and this version did not disappoint! Encore have produced another hit with audiences in the North West and it was a pleasure to witness the energy and commitment onstage.
Footloose was directed by Nick Cupit. Having been originally set in the 80’s, this version was brought up to date with mild references to Ru Paul’s Drag Race and a modern twist. Whilst most of the direction was in line with the script, I felt that there could’ve been more room in using modern technology with screens etc to show the different locations. I felt there were slightly too many scenes in front of the front cloth, whilst (noisily) scene changes were going on behind the curtain. There were various other elements that I noticed that needed attention, such as children in the bar scene, the character of Chuck in the dance (Footloose) at the end, the character of Uncle Wes being a drunk and the lacklustre accents, however I doubt that the audience noticed most of this. One other element I felt that needed more attention to detail was the lighting. There were patches of darkness on stage, in which the action was taking place. I felt that there might’ve been further opportunity to spend more time during the technical rehearsal on lighting. I am, of course, being very picky. The audience and I enjoyed this show very much and it was, yet another, brilliant show by Encore Productions.
In charge of choreography was Natasha Bill. I loved the choreography and it was in line with the overall piece. One particular highlight was the choreography in ‘Footloose’ as well as the idea of using crossovers during ‘Somebody’s Eyes’. The crossovers were excellently choreographed, helped build tension, and was visually stunning! I must say, from a ‘non-dancing society’, the standard of commitment, energy and passion from the dancers was outstanding!
Ashley Walsh was at the helm of the band. For me, there were issues with the timing of some of the numbers. It was obvious that the singers and the band were not in sync. Because it was a high energy show, I felt that the band needed to speed up a little to match the energy onstage. Again, I doubt that the audience noticed any of this. A lot of hard work has gone into the intricate harmonies and I appreciate this.
Sound was by Danny Clare. I overheard some of the audience members talking in the interval saying that the band were too loud and some of the cast mics were loud. I personally didn’t have a problem with the levels as I felt that they matched the style of the piece. I did feel that the mic of Ariel was a little close to her mouth, so much so, that we could hear her breathing, but this wasn’t as bad in the second act.
Lighting was a bit hit and miss for me. I liked the coloured gels that were used throughout, but I thought that some of the acting space was patchy with areas of darkness. I felt that there was further opportunity to use lighting to enhance the location, e.g Lights of the train going past. Overall, for me, the lighting was the weakest link.
Costumes and Wigs were created by the society members. All of the costumes were appropriate and relevant and helped the overall feel and look of the piece.
Jake Hankey played the role of Ren. Jake did very well to play the protagonist and had the right amount of verve and vigour to play the different side to Ren. Jake sang brilliantly vocally and showed great dance ability. Jake gave a great acting performance in his confrontation scene with Rev Moore towards the end of Act two. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more (dance) trickery during ‘I can’t stand still’ but this was a great all-round performance, yet again, by Jake.
Ariel was played by Alexandria Smith. Alex has a great vocal ability and has the right amount of sass as the sultry side of Ariel. I would’ve been nice to explore the more conservative side to Ariel during the scenes at home with her parents, but Alex held her own throughout and had a great rapport with the other girls in her friendship group.
Neil Atherton played the role Rev. Shaw Moore. Whilst Neil did very well on the southern accent, it went into English during his song(s) particularly ‘Heaven Help Me’. Rev. Moore is a very complex character to play and I thought that Neil did well to try and show the tortured soul, struggling with child bereavement. Neil’s scene with Jake when they were confronting each other toward the end of act two was great and quite emotional. I felt that Neil could’ve shown his anger more through frustration, using silences rather than shouting. This would’ve given a more rounded performance and made the audience feel more for his character.
Dawn Lloyd played the role of the complex Vi Moore; the Reverends wife. Dawn played the role as a stoic character who was very much troubled between her husbands wishes, keeping up appearances with the locals and doing what is right. I thought Dawn showed a great amount of physical stillness which reflected her character. I felt that she was bound by her duty as the Reverend’s wife. Dawn sang very well vocally. I liked her version of ‘Learning to be Silent’. If I was to be very picky, I would’ve liked to have seen moments of more light heartedness between Vi and Shaw, whist still in keeping with the overall feel.
Izzi Feld (Rusty), Rachel Sutton (Urleen) and Laura Cupit (Wendy-Jo) were excellent in their roles! This trio (of narrators) brought a much-needed humour to cut the obvious tension and each excelled in their vocal ability. Whilst each had their own individual character, as a trio, they packed a big punch! Their version of ‘Somebody’s Eyes’ was outstanding and Izzi Feld’s version of ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ is the best version of this song I’ve ever heard – bar none! Well done girls!
Jake Liken played the role of the country bumkin, Willard. Jake had the right amount of vulnerability and dumbness without it being offensive or overplayed. I (and the audience) loved Jake’s performance and his version of ‘Mamma Says’ was brilliant! Another highlight was ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ which Jake performance brilliantly.
Claire Cannon played the role of Ethel McCormack, the mother of the troublesome Ren. Claire displayed brilliant vocals, as always, and did very well to portray the hurt wife and the cool mother role. I would’ve liked to have seen more moments between Claire and Jake, particularly during the court/panel scenes near the end but this is more of a directional moment, rather than a character choice.
Jimmy Dean played the role of the local baddie, Chuck Cranston. I liked the darkness that Jimmy brought to the role and thought that he did well to create moments of tension. Personally, I would’ve preferred a little more command of the space to create tension and show anger, as opposed to shouting to convey anger. Jimmy (and his crew) did well during ‘The Girl Gets Around’ which sounded great. I missed the top tenor harmony which would’ve been the icing on the cake.
There are far too many other characters for me to mention in any great detail (nine other named parts) and it would be unfair for me to single anyone out. What I will say, is that there was a suitable tension between the older cast and the high school kids. The cast told their story well and reacted with truth and honesty. I loved the passion, commitment and overall vibe of this piece of theatre. There were lots of feelgood moments throughout in which the audience could sang and dance along. The audience loved Footloose and that’s all the review that any show needs. If any society out there are looking for a show with a large cast that will get bums on seats, then this is the show for you! Well done to the entire fifty strong cast of Encore on a great production. I am looking forward to returning to Encore Productions in a few weeks’ time to see their production of The Railway Children.