25th July 2014
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Type of Production
Louise Travis Assisted by Lou Petch
Author: Julie Petrucci
Bury Operatic Society stepped away from musicals for their summer production with Richard Harris’ Stepping Out, a comedy about the attempts of a disparate set of women - and one man - to overcome their inhibitions and two left feet to learn tap-dancing.
Mavis, a former professional chorus girl with problems of her own, not least Mrs Fraser the group’s pianist; tries her hardest to teach the bumbling amateurs some terpsichorean skills for an upcoming concert.
The setting gave a good impression of a church hall complete with community notice board. There was not much called for in the way of props but what there was were appropriate and much attention was paid to individual’s costumes which left us in no doubt as to their characters.
Technically the first night had a few hiccoughs and well done to the cast who kept things going at one point ad libbing in the wings - still in character too!
To make the play work the cast need to know how to tap dance in the first place so the challenge here is to appear inept initially but to be able to show progression as the class builds to their performance at the charity concert. No mean feat and difficult to pull off and I’m not sure that showing the progression actually came across in all cases.
There were some good and some excellent performances from this well-rehearsed and tight-knit cast. In addition there were some very funny rehearsals where bad dancing rules; but some of the play’s best moments are in the developing relationships between individual class members.
Before she can start whipping her troupe into shape however, Mavis (underplayed with great skill by Cath Harvey) must mediate the minor dramas that erupt among this diverse but likeable group. To top it all poor Mavis has to put up with Mrs Fraser (Debbie Croll unrecognisable as a doddery old lady), her rather acerbic pianist who believes she really is better than all this.
Marc Kerr’s Geoffrey a man with two or three left feet was well portrayed. The butt of many jokes from the ladies. Despite his utter lack of dancing skill, Andy (Emma Rutherford) is clearly attracted to him. I felt Ms Rutherford brought a lot to the part, developing her character from church mouse to anger when it was justified.
Lynne (skilfully portrayed by Amy Restall) is a young nurse, upset at the death of one of her patients.
Dorothy (Heather Couch who couldn’t quite bring herself to pretend she couldn’t dance and unfortunately rather went over the top) works at the social security office but denies the suggestion that she informed on Sylvia’s (smashing performance from Mandy Morrish) partner Tony. Who, we hear, does a little bit of this, a little bit of that whilst drawing the dole.
Fiona Barker was particularly strong as Maxine who appears thick-skinned but proves she is caring and sensitive when it comes to comforting Andy. Vera (an excellent performance by Sally Donaghey) is extremely posh with a cleaning fettish, but nonetheless likeable. Vanessa Tatum played Rose and here BSEAODS went with the option of portraying this character as white Irish. This is the first time I have seen this show where Rose hasn’t been played by a black actress and it threw me a bit. I can’t say I think the character works as well.
Of course, we mustn’t forget Rachel Curtis as the Sugar Plum Fairy, who disrupted the charity concert technical rehearsal searching for a lost contact lens.
I did have one or two niggles I am afraid. I got stressed out with Dorothy’s over the body baggy satchel-type bag which only left her person in the final concert scene. I cannot think Mavis would have allowed her to get away with both that and a knock-kneed stance "in the real world” for long. There were three characters using accents which in itself is not a problem if done well, but they did tend to waver about somewhat and were not always particularly convincing, to my mind anyway.
All in all though this was a fun production under the guidance of Louise Travis and her assistant director Lou Petch and a good choice for a summer slot.