Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society’s summer show at The Georgian Theatre Royal has been a long three years in the making. Scheduled for summer 2020, it fell foul of Covid and lockdown etc – you know how the story goes! – and it has taken until 2022 to bring it to fruition.
Some of the original cast were unable to take part so there has been a history of re-casting, absences through illnesses and learning tap dancing routines in isolation. It was, therefore, with a large degree of celebration that the curtain finally went up on the opening night of Richard Harris’s sharp-witted comedy Stepping Out.
The play concerns nine women – and one man – from very different backgrounds who attend the same weekly tap-dancing class in a local church hall in the 1980s. Despite the students at first treating the classes largely as social occasions, and showing little talent (or co-ordination!), they later develop an admirable level of skill and cohesiveness, culminating in a grand charity public performance.
Leading the class is Mavis (Joanne Mason) a thwarted dancer who never made it beyond the professional chorus lines and the hilarious, sour-faced piano accompanist Mrs Fraser (Susie Ordish). The pupils themselves are a mixed bunch. There are the loud and dominant class members like the extrovert Maxine (Helena Langford); the glamour queen Rose (Carole White); and the loveable class clown Sylvia (Jodie Martin) who manages to steal a lot of the evening’s laughs.
Then there are the quieter types: the insecure Dorothy (Stephanie McAulay) who always arrives on her bike; the nail-chewing Lynne (Marie Claire Smith) and the enigmatic Andy (Nicola Bryan).
Thrown into this mix is class newcomer Vera (Wendy Morris) who left her previous class under a cloud. Her character’s well-meaning but obsessive-compulsive bluntness and intrusion into the class is funny, compelling, and ultimately moving.
And, finally, there is the wonderful part of Geoffrey (Paul Mason) who is recently widowed, the only man in the group and increasingly the subject of the women’s attention.
This fascinating bunch are all very different and all have their own personal stories away from the tap class that start to emerge as the play progresses. As they prepare for the show of a lifetime, we get to see the tensions, squabbling and, at times, accusations, that make up these sorts of social interactions.
By the end of the evening, you feel heavily invested in these lovable characters and intrigued and (without wishing to go into spoiler territory) concerned by the hints at the darker sides of their lives.
The cast handle all this very well and do a great job of bringing everyone to life but this is also one of the script’s frustrations. You are left wanting to know more. By the end of the evening, I for one had grown rather fond of everyone and was a little frustrated by the lack of answers.
That said, the play offers up a fine observational slice of life with equal helpings of comedy and pathos. It is also very funny and entertaining to watch and there is a steady stream of cracking one-liners that had the audience roaring with laughter.
The show’s finale is slick, professional and brings a feel-good high to the evening; showing that those three years in production have certainly not been in vain! This is an excellent and competent showing from RADS.
Stepping Out runs on selected nights at The Georgian Theatre Royal until Saturday 6 August. Get along to see it if you can.