Thursday, August 18

Footloose – Edinburgh Playhouse

Footloose tells the musically infused tail of wayward Ren and his journey from Chicago to rural backwater Bomont. A town tragedy involving the loss of the preacher’s son results in a town-wide ban on dancing in the bible-led town. Really? Oh yes. For newly arrived Ren and the preacher’s rebellious daughter Ren, this is devastating, especially as romance blossoms and the desire to dance ensues. But more interestingly, Ren embraces Christianity and uses a newly gifted bible to argue his cause for dancing which is a rather impressive move.

Footloose is your classic jukebox musical complete with hits of the day spattered throughout the production for some dramatic and often comic effect. West-End star Darren Day relishes the spotlight as tough preacher Rev. Shaw Moore. In fact, his performances a worth the ticket alone and sadly too few. Tonight, it does rather feel like a treat to be Day’s company Fresh out of Drama School, Lucy Muden’s Ariel displays beautiful vocal control, nuanced acting and engaging performances make her some of the only believable characters in this often two-dimensional production and are by far the highlight throughout.

Photo: Mark Senior

Cram packed with musical and dance numbers and alongside far too much unnecessary hip thrusting especially from Jake Quickenden’s Willard. Director, Racky Plews throws the whole kitchen sink at it with the help of Matt Cole’s 80s choreography. Some of the high jinks lands extremely well but so much of it falls limply, electing little audience reaction. Where the production really nails it with its well-executed cast of actor musicians. It’s a safe approach to actor musicianship, certainly, but even still, these are tried and tested techniques that thrill any theatre goer. Relishing actor musicianship and chorus numbers, Rusty (Oonagh Cox), Urleen (Samantha Richards) and Wendy Jo (Jess Barker) delight as Ariel’s school pals. Battling against some complex musical arrangements, this female ensemble outperform any of the male efforts. And Joshua Hawkins’s high kicking and dancing Ren goes from infallible optimism to a character who appears to shine under adversity and pressure. Hawkins has managed to create some sense depth in quite a simple script. And despite the ‘hammy’ moments, Quickenden’s Willard does have some excellent comic timing.

Sara Perks’ suitably 80s set is a typical west-end tour number, which while remaining mostly stagnant does contain a few moveable numbers. Sadly, it seems rather unstable. Multiple cast entrances and exits leave curtains open and from my opportune front row seats audience members could see beyond the actor-muso quarters into the depths of the stage beyond through badly drawn curtains that barely met, a space where techies congregate, and actors change customer. Brecht wasn’t on the programme tonight and this kind of faux pas doesn’t feel excusable from a professional production, especially as it distracted so much from the action on stage.

Either way, it’s a Tuesday night in the playhouse but it could be a Saturday. This production has the audience up on their feet and lapping up the final numbers as the actor-musos let rip. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re in the mood for some frivolous, daft and nostalgic fun, Footloose may have you wishing you’d bought your neon tutu and your legwarmers.

Footloose runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 23rd July, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/footloose/edinburgh-playhouse/

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 19th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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