Chipperfield Theatre Group – Stepping Out
As something of a frustrated playwright, I sometimes scoff at the plays this talented troupe have to perform and wonder what they could do with a really good piece of sharp writing. Richard Harris� critically acclaimed Stepping Out seemed the perfect test. Would they flounder attempting to ape Minelli, Walters and co. or would they dig deep and really pull it off? The answer to the latter question was an emphatic yes. Director Tricia Williamson wheeled out the big hitters and they didn�t disappoint. For those who don�t know, the play is set in a community hall where a motley crew of mostly menopausal misfits escape the turmoil of their intriguing personal lives at a weekly tap dance class. Their skills are limited but they are drilled into shape for a charity performance which provides the uplifting finale.
The ever popular Wendy Marchant and Jennifer Heusen led the way, with their brassy characters competing for the best lines, but they needed a foil and Lisa Heusen provided it expertly with a performance of great maturity as the tap dance leader. Her masterful stage presence aligned to the balanced choreography direction of Danielle Marchant ensured the tap scenes were engaging and funny but did not stoop to cheap farce.
There was no fancy set to distract from the interplay between characters and although the perennially good Wendy East provided some underlying pathos, this was never allowed to sullen the mood. And how could it anyway, with the Rob Hine�s spectacularly
unfashionable knitwear providing an ever present beacon of ridicule.
So top marks all round then but, as the programme notes stated, everyone has their favourite and mine was Mrs Fraser – the miserly pianist who sniped at the sidelines with her droll acerbic comments. Sue Harvey, who played her, was exceptional – careful not to overplay her character or milk the laughs. Her unfussy performance personified the strength of the production as a whole. The strength being not to over complicate things. The characters were endearingly idiosyncratic without being full on caricatures.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn�t spot Lewis Gilbert who directed the film version of Stepping Out in the audience but I am sure had he been there, he would have approved of what he saw. I know I certainly did.
Jason CoxTags: Theatre Group