Theatre in Wales

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Footloose

Sell a Door Theatre Company , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August-23-16
Footloose by Sell a Door Theatre Company The producing company is different but “Footloose” follows Aberystwyth’s August musical of 2015 in one respect. In “Legally Blonde” Peter Karrie was the sole actor of mature years alongside an overwhelmingly young cast. “Footloose” has four roles for adults, Preacher Moore and wife Vi, mother Ethel and Uncle. The rest are all playing teenagers and a look at the real-life photos of Maureen Nolan, Nicky Swift and Nigel Lister shows anyway that they are playing characters older beyond their actual ages. To reinforce that Preacher Moore is with the kids he seizes a guitar at the close and lets loose some serious riffs.

The company-as-band is a relatively new practice. Craig Revel Horwood has been a proponent. So not only is the company young- several are graduates of the class of 2015 on a big multi-venue tour- but they move in and out of character to play the instruments. Only the drummer stays put, high up in Sarah Perks' design. Otherwise the roller-blading host of the Burger Blast packs a saxophone, a trio of guitarists play and shimmy at the same time. The company note describes them as “onstage swing.” The casting changes but at this performance they comprise Lauren Storer, Natalie Morton-Graham, Luke Thornton and Alex Marshall. Scott Haining is an out-of-county buck-skinned cowboy.

The plot of “Footloose” is a staple. City sophistication transplanted to small town has a long heritage. In MGM’s 1950 “Summer Stock” theatre director Gene Kelly rehearses his troupe in a barn and meets Judy Garland in dungarees and driving a tractor. Sondheim’s 1964 “Anyone Can Whistle” is a Manhattanite’s ribbing of small town mores. In this case it is the shift from Chicago to Bomont, West Virginia. It is a place where youngsters are called Willard and Wendy Jo. They look to the city where a stranger might threaten. A line from “Somebody's Eyes” notes the “tongues wagging at every move you make.” There is a sadness in the ballad “Learning to Be Silent” sung to a delicate flute accompaniment.

The leads at this second-week performance are Luke Baker as Ren, a volcano of dancing energy. Lee Brennan is Willard, not a million miles from Cletus of Springfield, a terrific performance of humour and movement. In this kind of world he may be tongue-tied and in shapeless clothes, apart from an instance where they nearly all vanish, but he is still adored and pursued by Joanna Sawyer's Rusty. Ariel is Hannah Price, a big stage presence married to a big voice. The original score has an addition in the form of Jim Steinman and a big blast of “Holding Out for a Hero”, reprised in the finale. Hannah Price even plays a silver trumpet late on. Her sashaying, all-dancing friends are played by Miracle Chance and Natasha Brown. Choreography is by Matthew Cole.

The book for “Footloose” is not a great one by any standards even if it has picked up a few awards. The exposition is crisp but then not a lot happens in act one. The source material is probably a restraint. Chuck Cranston swings in and out of focus and looks as if he ought to be a villain. He is to the extent that he is instigator of physical violence. But the emotional crux of fatherless son crosses the bridge to sonless father is peremptory and a little abrupt. But then the books for musical theatre are not the reason they endure. That for “Showboat” is a classic of shapeless sprawl. An audience comes for vitality and heart on a big scale. There is maybe even an unintended element of topicality here. It really is up to the next generation to knock over the ordnances of a fusty, life-denying older generation. In a summer of political purgatory “Footloose” is a little bit of theatre heaven.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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