Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Tale of perseverance gives hope to those of us with two left feet

THERE are two things which make Stepping Out a footstomping success: Amber Edlin’s dancing and Amber Edlin’s acting

THERE are two things which make Stepping Out a footstomping success: Amber Edlin’s dancing and Amber Edlin’s acting — they are the backbone to this funny tale of novice tap dancers coming together.

At surface level it’s a simple yarn of a few women and one man — already a recipe for humour — going through the process of learning to dance. Cue jokes about clumsiness, various left feet and even one, I think unintentional, tumble.

But just beneath that is something more permanent. It’s a story of striving, of different types, classes and morals trying to fit with one another for a shared purpose. It’s also an intriguing look back at the Eighties and its attitudes to women and race — although director Sally Hughes has brought it into 2015 with mobile phones being brandished.

For instance it’s very hard to see how, in 2015, a black woman in an otherwise white line-up would “stick out like a sore thumb” — few would notice these days, although it still raised a laugh from the audience.

Yvonne Newman as Rose played up to her part with a large frame and personality to match. But it was surprising to hear a strong West Indian accent — they have mostly slipped away as the second and third generations have come through.

We have the brashness of the new orders of the Eighties — the small-scale entrepreneurs operating under the table and under the radar, loudly pushing themselves and their not-so-legit wares and services.

The audience clearly liked Michelle Morris and Janine Leigh as cackling spiv and dole scrounger but the more understated performances from Belinda Caroll, Elizabeth Elvin, Richard Gibson and Angela Sims appealed more to this reviewer. And Elizabeth Power’s Mrs Fraser was a treat as a disgruntled pianist.

But the heart of the show is Mavis the dance teacher who never made it beyond the chorus line in the professional world, so she grinds out a living by trying to lead good, not so good and downright bad dancers while keeping a lid on her temper and trying to manage a truculent pianist.

Amber Edlin’s dancing athleticism and skilled acting are the needle and thread that hold it all together. She gave the appearance of caring while not caring about her charges’ personal lives, of dealing with her own problems and, in the end, of bringing off an unlikely and spectacular success. It’s a demanding range covering everything from profound sadness to near ecstasy.

The dancing deserves special mention because, while this isn’t a musical, it’s the central element of the whole thing — what brings them together and provides respite or variety in their lives. The whole cast must be proficient in order to appear poor at the beginning and slowly improve until the rousing slick routine at the end.

There’s lots of dancing in this show and lots of enjoyable screwing it up.

Every character gets a spot in the limelight to air their problems, and the interesting thing is that none of those issues are ever resolved, but the dancing is and that in itself brings about change for them.

It’s a fun show with a little sadness woven in to make it more real.

Until mid-January.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

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