Stepping Out nearly stumbles
The TelstraClear Season of Stepping Out, by Richard Harris
Auckland Theatre Company
Until July 3
Bruce Mason Centre
North Shore City
July 8 – 10
It is generally accepted that a piece of theatre has a beginning, a middle and an end, although not necessarily in that order. The problem with Stepping Out is that the playwright, Richard Harris leaves out the ending or provides a false ending making for a play which feels incomplete.
On the other hand one could say that the great thing about Stepping Out is that you get two shows for the price of one. There is a great comedy and then there are a couple of riotous dance numbers.
It’s a play about a tap dancing class, which doesn’t sound like the basis of a comedy but Richard Harris had a good go at it when he wrote it twenty-five years ago.
It would seem that at the time Mr Harris rummaged around in Roger Hall’s rubbish bin and found the rejected script in which he had tried out his own version of Ladies Night. Mr Harris saw the potential of the idea which he then tidied up and made into a pretty reasonable comedy.
The problem is that Roger only got half way through his script before chucking it out and that’s where Stepping Out finishes. So, instead of tidying all the loose ends together Mr Harris saw that the best way out was to add on a couple of routines from one of the musicals like A Chorus Line.
The two parts are thoroughly entertaining and you only realize that there has been no denouement or clever twist at the end of the play until you’re leaving the theatre.
A good part of Stepping Out is made up of witty interchanges between the cast of characters who attend the weekly class at a community hall.
The play follows them through their attempts at mastering the art of tap dance under the guidance of Mavis (Sandra Rasmussen) with most of them being hopeless in their own idiosyncratic ways.
However, when Mavis is approached to put on an act for Xmas in the Park they all start to try harder and their performances slowly evolve into something almost professional with the audience applauding their individual and collective achievements.
The play was originally written for a multi cultural English cast but director Colin McColl has neatly given it a strong local flavour as well as making it contemporary. So, there is an oblique reference to the BP oil spill and sponsors TelstraClear are given a passing mention.
Each of the characters has been given a tidy one dimensional life, which allows for a combination of slapstick and stand up comedy which is has the audience laughing for most of the time.
There is Maxine the blousy clothes stall owner (Christina Asher), Tusi (Goretti Chadwick), the large Polynesian who prefers to tap while lying down, Sylvia (Michelle Leuthart) who is perennially concerned about her size but always up for a night on the town, the talented nurse Lynne (Olivia Tennet), the troubled Andy (Sia Trokenheim), the interfering Vera (Suzanne Paul), the incompetent Dorothy (Hera Dunleavy) with two left feet who works for WINZ and the sole male Geoffrey, (Jason Te Mete) who is an uninspired insurance clerk.
Penny Dodd who is better known as a pianist is Mrs. Fraser, the temperamental piano accompanist who belts out the practice numbers although she is brilliantly upstaged with a solo recital by Jason Te Mete.
Suzanne Paul may have been selected as a bit of celebrity gloss but she carries off the role with real style as do the rest of the cast.
For all of the characters, class night seems to be the one night when they are able to step out of their tedious day jobs and enter a world of make believe glamour.
Throughout the play there are observations about stage performance, stage fright, and the technicalities of putting on shows with Maxine making the wry observation about going to the theatre - “I went to a play and couldn’t even understand the interval”.
Harris also attempts to introduce a darker side to the shallow lives of the characters but it’s not really enough to make them two-dimensional. Personal problems of health, domestic violence and work slowly leak into the conversations but nobody addresses the problems
While the audience acknowledged the final two dance numbers with some rousing applause, there was also puzzlement and frustration at the lack of resolution.
Even though the play may have some limitations, the cast is uniformly superb with outstanding performances with director Colin McColl delivering the ideal mid winter cheer up to counter the disappointment of any New Zealand losses at the World Cup.