It’s hard to attend a performance of
Overall this is a big hearted production that is still finding its feet.
Right from the start a general sense of unease dogged the performance. Perhaps it was nerves, but the opening song was shaky and the cast seemed unsure of themselves. What should have been a big, showy number to set the tone for the rest of the production unfortunately never quite hit. Thankfully the cast relaxed a little as the first half progressed and eased the audience along with them, but a bad first impression is hard to recover from.
Not that there was much time to dwell on this as the show’s first half storms along at breakneck speed. A song seemed to occur every two minutes and some inventive staging meant that if a cast member wasn’t singing, they were playing an instrument somewhere upstage. Everyone in the production seemed to be able to play at least three instruments; from the flute, to the clarinet, to the guitar to the saxophone. It was certainly impressive, if a little hectic when paired with scene-changes, hardcore ‘80s dancing, rollerblading, Gareth Gates’ clothes being ripped off and some extremely aggressive skipping. I felt exhausted just watching them and seeing the effort they were putting in went along way to forgiving some of the production’s flaws.
Not that it was all bad. Both Ariel (Hannah Price) and Rusty (Laura Sillett) have strong voices and there are some nice additional songs as well as the more well-known hits from the film. In particular Learning To Be Silent provided a poignant moment of stillness amidst such a non-stop, high energy performance. Joshua Dower as leading man Ren is a convincingly wholesome cheeky-chappy while Hannah Price’s Ariel wears the curly SJP hair and iconic red cowboy boots from the 1984 film like a trouper. The headlining names of the production are Gareth Gates as Willard and Maureen Nolan as Vi. While both give engaged performances, I felt Gates was a little over the top (throughout he does these odd, distracting hand gestures) and never fully believed his character.
After a whistle-stop first half, the production drags a little during the second act. Everyone knew how it ended and just wanted to hear Footloose already! The finale (once it finally arrived) did not disappoint, one way to ensure you get a standing ovation is to whack on that tune!
Overall this is a big hearted production that is still finding its feet. The cast knew it and the audience knew it. I left the theatre feeling vaguely shell-shocked but in a pleasant way, appreciative of the cast’s dedication but not entirely convinced. And a show like Footloose, when done right, is not the kind of production you have mixed feelings about. An extra two weeks of rehearsal would have done this production a world of good.