Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – until 20 February 2016
Guest reviewer: Susan Lowes
Sell a Door Theatre company bring high energy to the stage with the invitation to cut loose with Footloose. But while there’s energy aplenty, don’t expect it to bring the Bacon.
Based on the 1984 film of the same name, Footloose is a coming of age story of repression, rebellion and justice. City-boy Ren finds himself suddenly uprooted from Chicago to Bomont, a rural backwater American town.
As Ren struggles to fit in within his new surroundings, he learns that dancing, one of his releases from the stress of everyday life, is outlawed. The story shows Ren (Luke Baker) wrestling with his emotions and frustrations and challenging the status quo of the town. It’s an inspirational story of challenging fear and it’s meant to charter and celebrate the fight for freedom of expression. Except that this production doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Suspending the obvious contradiction with the original 1998 stage adaptation of the film, where a repressed town where dancing is outlawed is represented through the medium of song and dance, this new remastered production is a crowd-pleaser but doesn’t quite do enough to live up to its silver screen predecessor.
The Bible-belt repression isn’t strong enough to set the tone. Nigel Lister and Alex Marshall play their parts convincingly as well-intentioned tyrants Reverend Moore and Ren’s Uncle, Wes Warnicker. However, it’s not enough to characterise the stifling control of the town. In fact, the youngsters seem to be managing just fine until Ren comes onto the scene.
The only part of the opening act where the suppression is truly present is in the song Learning to be Silent, performed by the reverend’s wife (Maureen Nolan) and daughter (Hannah Price), and Ren’s mother (Nicky Swift)
Footloose dress rehearsal. Photo Sell A Door
The production benefits from Maureen Nolan’s acting and vocal performances. Her talent shines through to steal the show, evoking genuine emotion. There’s also a pull for the younger crowd with Gareth Gates clowning around as slow-witted Willard. Although he doesn’t have a serious number, he proves that he still has what it takes.
But even with these big names injecting some life into the stage, it’s oddly unsatisfying. Luke Baker plays to the crowd as Ren – with moves reminiscent of Kevin Bacon – but sadly his dancing talents fall short. Similarly as toes get ready to start tapping to the opening title track, Footloose, it instead comes across as disappointingly gaudy, obnoxious and overacted. It is peculiarly both high-energy and flat at the same time.
This is also true with some of the bigger numbers in the first act. With the cast relying on jokes and crowd-pleasers, such as stripping Gareth Gates, than inspiration and feeling. Disappointingly, I’m Free/Heaven Help Me closing the first act feels over-choreographed, with the dancers almost lining up to complete the next sequence.
Thankfully, the second half provides a little more much needed emotion. But it’s never going to be deep and meaningful, and perhaps that’s as it should be.
While Footloose is nostalgic enough to satisfy most and fun enough to draw in the younger crowd, its ultimately not quite enough to live up to its big screen counterpart or satisfy those looking for a little more depth.
Running time 2 hour 40 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 February 2015
Evenings: 7:30pm:Matinees Thurs & Sat 2.30pm
Tickets and further details from Festival Theatre
Footloose on tour Spring 2016:
16 – 20 Feb
0844 871 3014
22 – 27 Feb
29 Feb – 5 Mar
029 2087 8889
14 – 19 Mar
0844 871 3019
21 – 26 Mar
28 Mar – 2 Apr
023 9282 8282
12 – 16 Apr
0844 576 3000
18 – 23 Apr
0844 871 3020
25 – 30 Apr
01934 645 544
2 – 7 May
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646
9 – 14 May
0844 871 3017
17 – 21 May
01923 571 102
31 May – 4 June
028 7126 4455
13 – 18 June
0844 871 7648
20 – 25 June
His Majesty Theatre
12 – 16 July
Tyne Theatre and Opera House
0844 2491 000