As one of the most prolific and successful writers for British stage and screen, and despite his various other huge successes, Richard Harris’ ‘Stepping Out’ still stands today as a truly delicious slice of comedy writing. It is known that the inspiration for the play came from Harris’ late wife, the actress Hilary Crane, who suggested he come down to sit in on her local dance class, as she believed there might be ‘a play in it for him’ – and so Stepping Out was born.
Staged at the majestic Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand, from curtain up we are drawn into the little world of this amateur tap dance class set in a North London church hall. Our eight protagonists each have their own personal reasons for attending the class; their starkly different characters are conveyed through interwoven moments with one another, but the darker underlying motivations for why exactly they attend the tap class is never quite let slip. Instead, Harris feeds us tantalising snippets of detail about each of their lives… some of these snippets are for us as an audience to draw our own conclusions about, and some of them are a little more obvious, taking us deeper into our character’s truths. These darker, sadder moments pierce the sparky script and serve to inject touching ‘human’ elements, keeping us engaged and hooked from the modest church hall beginnings to the toe-tapping, sparkling finale.
Amanda Holden is just sensational and stunning as Vera, the meddling, uppity, socially outrageous newest member, with a heart of gold – she endears us to her whilst simultaneously rubbing everybody up the wrong way. Tracy-Ann Oberman has the audience cracking up every time she bursts onto stage with her effervescent know-it-all demeanour and loud leopard print jacket. Tamzin Outhwaite plays dance class teacher Mavis, although the performance we were treated to was one by the fantastic understudy, Anna-Jane Casey. Mrs Fraser, the moaning and miserable pianist expertly portrayed by Judith Barker, whose drunken outburst is one of the most hilarious moments in the play.
Natalie Casey’s down-to-earth, ‘take me as I am’ portrayal of Sylvia is another stand out performance, whilst Nicola Stephenson as Dorothy, Lesley Vickerage as Andy, Sandra Martin as Rose and Jessica-Alice McCluskey as Lynne all serve to add different interesting dynamics to the mix, each with their own peculiar quirks and motivations. Dominic Rowan as the group ‘doormat’ Geoffrey is one of the most engaging characters despite having the least to say – a true mark of an excellent actor!
By zoning into different characters throughout the course of the play, each of our tap class amateurs is equally as funny whilst doing next to nothing at all; simply telling the story through facial expressions and the slightest background movements, whilst still never pulling focus. The whole cast work seamlessly together, delivering their one-liners with panache and perfect comedy timing, and a special mention should go out to the fantastic direction from Maria Friedman and brilliant, feel-good choreography from Tim Jackson. Stepping Out is really not to be missed – step on up to the Vaudeville to catch this sparkling gem of a show.
Review by Louise Czupich
Amanda Holden heads a phenomenal cast in this wonderfully funny and heart-warming comedy which charts the lives of seven women and one man attempting to tap their troubles away at a weekly dancing class. Initially all thumbs and left feet, the group is just getting to grip with the basics when they are asked to take part in a charity gala…
Over the course of several months we meet the group, and all of them have a story to tell, There’s haughty Vera, mouthy Maxine and uptight Andy; bubbly Sylvia and shy Dorothy; eager Lynne and cheerful Rose and, of course, Geoffrey. At the piano is the dour Mrs Fraser and spurring them all on, the ever-patient Mavis.
Directed by triple Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman, the stellar cast also includes Angela Griffin, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Tamzin Outhwaite and Nicola Stephenson.
Stepping Out was the winner of the Evening Standard Comedy of the Year Award, 1984. It was also made into a musical, which became a film in 1991, starring Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters.
404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH