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Stepping Out by Richard Harris at Jack Studio Theatre

Stepping Out
Stepping Out

As well as your job and family, it’s great to have something just for you, a hobby or sport that allows you some downtime and a chance to forget the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Many people, for example, take a class of some kind, learning a new skill or subject with other people they would probably never meet in their ‘normal’ life. Welcome then to the Northern London church hall that is the setting for Richard Harris’ Stepping Out at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley.

It’s Thursday night and Mavis (Christina Meehan) along with the accompanist Mrs Fraser (Harriet Earle) is getting ready to meet her tap dancing class. Like many a class of this type, the ‘pupils’ are a mixed bunch. There are your loud ladies like Maxine (Lynn Beaumont) – always able to get things for people at cut-down prices – Or Rose (Monica Leighton) getting over her hair disaster with a wig and sequined trainers – and salt of the earth type Sylvia (Jessica Brady). Then there are the quieter participants Dorothy (Ceris Hine), Lynne (Gabrielle Sabel) and Andy (Emily Stitch), the latter being a bit of an enigma to the others. And finally, there is Geoffrey (Sean McDowell), recently widowed and the only man in the group. Everyone is different but they have a common interest in tap dancing so meet up once a week for a lesson. The group has been together a while and everyone, one the surface, seems to get one with each other. Tonight is a bit different though as there is a new person joining the team. Tall, thin and well dressed with a refined accent, Vera (Helen Jeckells) has arrived for her first lesson with Mavis and her first encounter with the Thursday night regulars.

Stepping Out is a fine example of people and what happens when they go into groups that may be outside of their comfort zone. In fact, I would say it’s a very British play in the way Richard Harris has portrayed the various characters and their interactions with each other. And they are potentially a fascinating bunch. Each of them has their own personal story away from the tap class, and this is one of the areas where I feel the script lets the audience down. By the end, the audience will know something about every one of the characters – possibly with the exception of Mrs Fraser – but everything else about them has to be inferred from looks and little titbits of information dropped in the dialogue. For example, Vera is quite a complex character and there were moments when I thought I had a real, and extremely uncomfortable, inkling about her home life, but at the end, I didn’t really know anything for sure, and I found that frustrating. Similarly with Andy. Right from the start I had mentally marked her down as someone strongly at variance with the other characters but by the end, although I was privy to the same information as everyone else, she was still an enigma and her home life – for reasons I can’t say here without jumping into spoiler territory – was still a mystery to me. This was a shame because I had grown quite fond of everyone by the end but was frustrated by my lack of real knowledge of them.

However, putting this aside the performances were pretty good and the cast did a great job of bringing everyone to life and getting them to fit in with the rest of the troupe. Whilst it could be argued that Christina Meehan’s character, the retired dancer turned teacher Mavis, is the main character, everyone gets a chance to shine at various moments during the show. I absolutely loved Harriet Earle’s portrayal of Mrs Fraser – a woman who could turn milk sour by looking at it. Her ‘hissy fits’ were wonderful to watch, as was the moment when she did something totally against her normal nature. I can’t honestly say if Harriet was playing the piano but it certainly looked as if she was from where I sat. Director and Choreographer David Ball has the cast working well to appear to be initially inept at tap dancing. I’m guessing that, rather like Les Dawson playing the piano badly, everybody really knew how to tap so they could make the appearance of lack of skill look good and be safe.

Stepping Out is definitely a bit of an enigma to watch. Like the characters themselves, it feels like we only delve into everyone’s life for short intervals as they prepare for the show of a lifetime. So we get to see the tensions, squabbling and, at times, accusations, that make up these sorts of classes. Ultimately, the play is a fine slice of night-class life. Inhabited by interesting and well-presented characters in a fast flowing narrative, Stepping Out is great entertainment and toe-tapping fun.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Dust off the tap shoes and join Mavis and an unlikely group of adult tappers as acclaimed British playwright Richard Harris take us on an evening of laughter, love and passion at a North London adult tap class.

Mavis, a former professional dancer teaches the bumbling tappers but before the dancing she must mediate the dramas that erupt among this motley but loveable crew. When adversity, diversity, opportunity and ordinary come together, what is the result? A couple of time steps later and love and friendship are what really trumps this mix.
Three-time Off West End Award-nominated David Ball Productions brings you this heart-warming show that will have you tapping your way out of the theatre.

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH


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