You wait ages for a show about mature women and then two come along at once. Hot on the heels of Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s The Girls comes a revival of Richard Harris’s 1984 comedy about seven women and one lone man who meet for a weekly tap class in a dingy church hall under the tutelage of instructor Mavis.
Director Maria Friedman has kept this production in the 1980s rather than updating it, so we have references to Charles and Di, garish tights, leg warmers and big hair. The biggest hair belongs to Amanda Holden, who displays a nice comedic touch as Vera the busybody class newcomer who is obsessed with cleaning and organising and has absolutely no tact.
True to stereotype, the women mostly talk about men and children, but Harris has a keen eye for observation and his characters are nicely drawn. At times they feel a little clichéd, but never tip over into caricature thanks to some winning performances.
Amanda Holden as Vera in Stepping Out (photos by Ray Burmiston)
Tracy-Ann Oberman plays vampish businesswoman Maxine; Natalie Casey is down-to-earth Sylvia, who is stuck in a relationship with a benefit cheat; Nicola Stephenson is the irrepressible Dorothy, who is constantly looking for approval; and Lesley Vickerage is Andy, whose unrequited love for the group's sole man gives the play its most poignant moment. Anna-Jane Casey takes the role of the tutor Mavis (standing in for an injured Tamzin Outhwaite until 1 April), while Judith Barker plays her acid-tongued pianist Mrs Fraser.
All have their stories to tell but, perhaps because of the size of the cast, many are never brought to a satisfying conclusion. The women’s lives away from the class are tantalisingly hinted at, but never revealed in any great depth. What could be big plot points, about an unwanted pregnancy for example, are almost thrown away and never referred to again.
That said, Stepping Out is often very funny, moving and played with such charm that’s it’s difficult not to like. And the Chorus Line-style finale cannot fail to leave you with a smile on your face.
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