Stepping Out

Date 27th February 2015
Society Starlight Theatre Productions
Venue Royal Grammar School, Newcastle
Type of Production Play
Director Jonathan Cash
Choreographer Jenn Rouse

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Author: Michael L. Avery

Stepping Out is a bitter-sweet comedy by Richard Harris, with incidental music, about a group of women (and one man) attending weekly tap dancing classes.  Each has her/his own problems lives to contend with but their weekly escape is their dance class.  Watching is like eavesdropping on a real rehearsal, overhearing gossip, learning about the participants, observing their characters as they become a cohesive team.

Lyndsey Elizabeth Harrison runs the class playing Mavis, once a professional dancer who played the understudy but never the lead in the West End.  She tries to keep her own problems to herself as she tries to mould her class into a cohesive team.  She throws the group into turmoil by announcing she has entered them to perform at a local charity gala.  Suddenly, an untaxing social evening takes on the tension of a looming a public performance which, in turn, exposes the problems and differing levels of talent amongst the group.

Originally set in North London, this version has a definite Geordie twang thanks to Danielle Mendes.  She is Sylvia, mouthy, with a sexual innuendo for every occasion, constantly chewing gum.  Danielle raised quite a few knowing laughs from the mainly female audience.  Whilst Sylvia is mouthy and confident, the opposite must be said of Laura Tindall’s playing of Andy, the least confident pupil, bullied by her husband at home, with a slight crush on Geoffrey.  She made the audience care about this sad, nervous young woman.

Then there is Katie Howes, as Vera, well-meaning but a bit of a snob, whose taste in clothes is wide-ranging, interesting but never quite appropriate and who tends to speak before she thinks.  Katie can always be relied upon to inhabit any character she plays and she certainly inhabited Vera.

The one man is Steven Halliday, as Geoffrey, somewhat shy and nervous of Andy’s overtures.    Steven is very funny and quite moving in the part.  On one occasion, he had me wondering if he’d really stumbled, half naked, across the stage or whether he was acting. (He was acting).  Could he, perhaps, be the DSS nark who shopped Sylvia’s husband?  Sylvia, of course blames Linda Short, as Dorothy, who has a job at “the Ministry”.  Dorothy is one of the less confident dancers, a slightly timid woman who tries hard but could do without Sylvia’s suspicions.

Meanwhile, Margaret Hampton Matthews, as Mrs Fraser, seethes (usually quite quietly) behind the piano.  She’s grumpy but funny, resents being considered disposable and thinks she is doing everybody a favour - but she eventually has her moment in the spotlight.  Louise Armstrong plays Maxine, one of the more confident of the women who turns out to have a little dance talent tucked up her sleeve.  Choreographer Jenn Rouse is Lynne, a friendly, helpful character who has some kind, thoughtful moments.  Val Shield is something of a force of nature as Rose, an Irish lady with an opinion about everything.

With varying degrees of talent and confidence, each of them copes with the challenge of learning the routine and, after a somewhat disastrous final rehearsal … well, you really should see the play to find how it turns out. 

Director Jonathan Cash is blessed with a strong cast.  Their characters and problems gradually emerge.  Each actor makes the audience care.  Also a word for choreographer Jenn Rouse.  It cannot be easy teaching people how to dance badly! Being a play without set-piece musical numbers, the running time is quite short but, by the time it is over, the audience knows and understands the problems of each of the characters and is rooting for them.