ARTLOOK #7 | December / January 2004/2005
By Richard Harris
Directed by Fiona Hale
Produced by Queanbeyan Players
Uniting Church Hall, Queanbeyan
Queanbeyan's Uniting Church Hall was packed, and the laughs came thick and fast during the opening night performance of Queanbeyan Players latest production, Stepping Out, a slight but at times moving play, by English playwright Richard Harris.
The venue is entirely appropriate as the play is set in a church hall, where eight would-be tap-dancers, seven women and one man, gather each every week for a class run by the gifted teacher, Mavis, and her dragon of a piano accompanist, Mrs Fraser.
All have different reasons for coming to the class, and as the play progresses we gradually learn something of their lives and what brings them to the classes.
Over a series of scenes, set through Autumn to Spring, the participants' dancing gradually advances from complete hopelessness to a vaguely emerging sense of style. Then in the final fantasy sequence, we see them, one year on, dancing like true professionals.
The point of the story is not so much about dance itself as it is about a group of people in flight from troubled and unhappy home lives. These people snatch a couple of hours each week to express themselves and rebuild their confidence.
This production, directed by Fiona Hale and choreographed by Deborah Vaughn, is excellent, giving each of the characters room to move and leading the company through a series of half-failed dance routines with impressive dramatic and choreographic skill.
The unobtrusive set, designed by Andrew Thomson and Fiona Hale, takes full advantage of the ambiance of the Uniting Church Hall to heighten the intimacy between the audience and the characters, while careful attention to detail, such as the use of multiple costume changes to denote the passage of time, is a notable feature of the production.
The cast all throw themselves into their parts with enthusiasm, and it is is so much an ensemble that it seems invidious to single out particular performances; however, Laura Gilkes' beautiful, moving performance as the teacher Mavis is central to the success of the show, and her first act dance solo is a real highlight.
Juliet Sera, as Vera, the woman who immediately begins grating on her classmates with her snooty perfectionism, is excellent and makes the wearing of yellow rubber gloves seem almost glamorous, while Kelda McManus, as Sylvia, one of the more outspoken of Vera's critics, creates a thoroughly engaging character who garners the lion's share of the laughs.
Garrick Smith is both funny and touching as Geoffrey, the ineffectual widower who starts to fall for lonely, but married Andy (Georgia Pike).
During the course of the play, several sad subplots are raised briefly and passed over so that most of the characters ultimately lack any real depth or emotion, but the script does have a collection of interesting, if clichéd, characters, and enough sharp, funny one-liners to keep the laughs coming. Stepping Out ends on such a high note, with an extremely well executed dance finale, that it is almost impossible not to leave the Uniting Church Hall without feeling thoroughly entertained.
And yes, the famous Queanbeyan Players supper is still available at interval.
Bill Stephens is artlook’s music editor