Jack Studio Theatre – until 7 July
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The Mavis Turner Tappers are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face in Richard Harris’ bittersweet comedy. Set in a North London church hall, ex-professional dancer Mavis (Christina Meehan) doggedly attempts to teach simple routines to her adult students at the weekly tap classes. The characters are all broadly drawn, enabling instant recognition, but as the play progresses each character’s reasons for attending are gradually revealed, creating greater depth and emotions, but never getting in the way of the laughs.
Loud, confident Maxine (Lynn Beaumont), Rose (Monica Leighton) and Sylvia (Jessica Brady) are never slow to give their opinions, while young nurse Lynne (Gabrielle Sabel) does her best to keep the peace and look out for Dorothy (Ceris Hine) who is always one step behind in the dance and in life. Shy and uptight Andy (Emily Sitch) and Geoffrey (Sean McDowell), and compulsive cleaner and busybody Vera (Helen Jeckells) complete the class, with stern and sour Mrs Fraser (Harriet Earle) accompanying on the piano.
Christina Meehan gives a strong performance as Mavis – the usually calm centre of the tapping storm, while Ceris Hine, Helen Jeckells and Jessica Brady steal the show, making each line and movement comedy gold. The snippets of the characters’ everyday lives make it clear that these weekly lessons, and drinks afterwards, are an escape, and Mavis’ frustrations at their limitations are always outweighed by the joy of seeing their enjoyment. There is no deep insight into their lives, or any tying up of loose ends and issues, but this feels in keeping with the setting. How well do you actually know the people you meet at such classes?
The main message is the love and passion the class discover in dance. The cast perform the dreadful practice routines brilliantly – it takes a lot of talent to look that bad as an ensemble and not maim each other – and director David Ball hasn’t made it easy for them with his choreography on such a small stage. Stepping Out is a joyful, uplifting and laugh-out-loud funny treat.