Despite not making use of its source material to its limit, the joyous, feel-good vibes of this production allow Footloose to flourish.
On May 3rd, the Mayflower Theatre took its audience back on a trip to the 80s as Selladoor Worldwide’s UK tour of Footloose arrived in Southampton for a string of performances across the next week. Footloose, based on Herbert Ross’ classic 80s film, follows the story of Chicago native Ren McCormack (Joshua Hawkins), who moves to the small American south town of Bomont due to his mother’s financial pressures. When there, he discovers that dance and rock music, two of his big loves, have been banned by Rev. Shaw Moore (Darren Day) for reasons that I shan’t spoil…
Being set in a small American town means, as many theatre-goers will know, usually raises quite a persistent problem that the American accents are quite dodgy! In this case, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Hawkins’ Ren delivered a consistent accent that didn’t get grating at all, which can also be the case with these exaggerated portrayals. However, the same can not be said for Tom Mussell’s portrayal of Chuck and, surprisingly, veteran Darren Day. Both often seemed to slip into a strange mix of American, Australian and Irish accents that consistently took me straight out of the American south setting, others nearby felt the same as I overheard them mentioning this in the interval.
However, the accents of course aren’t the main selling point for Footloose! That is surely the 80s music, costumes, and overall feel-good vibe, which this production certainly achieves with flying colours. Alongside original songs by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford, a number of songs from the classic 80s film are used including, you guessed it, the title track Footloose – which is used over and over again throughout the production with multiple full performances and as a general motif between scenes. When the songs are performed, the production appeared to frantically blur the lines between a musical and a full-on concert, with the cast at times breaking the fourth wall by signaling them to clap along which certainly aided the feel-good mood of the show. Ariel Moore’s (Lucy Munden) performance of the iconic Holding Out For a Hero was another crowd-pleasing highlight, in fact, it’s hard to knock the singing voices of the cast at all! Usually, there’s at least one noticeable weak link in productions, but that didn’t seem to be the case here at all, with Holly Ashton, Jess Barker and Oonagh Cox also pulling in stand-out performances as Vi Moore, Wendy-Jo and Rusty respectively.
Alongside Day, this production’s “big name” is Jake Quickenden (right) as Ren’s second-hand man Willard Hewitt, who, since a failed pop career following The X Factor in 2014, has featured in a number of productions over the last few years. Now, I’m often suspicious of those in musicals who have made their names on reality TV shows (Quickenden also appeared on I’m a Celebrity in 2014), as more often than not, they’re there predominantly to have a face for the poster with little actual performing talent (naming no names there!) However, Quickenden delivered perhaps the most impressive performance of the night. When a known star is on the stage sometimes it’s quite hard to see them as anybody other than themselves, however, that thought didn’t cross me whatsoever. He oozed the required confidence and charm required for the role and I’d love to see him appear in more productions in the future.
I think one quite major aspect that let the production down was the set design, as the show opted for an unavoidable metal structure filling the length of the stage. With the location changes only being made through props (such as just red lockers to represent the school) and neon lights being brought on stage, it meant that they all became quite blurred. I understand opting for a more minimalistic set design that perhaps wants the audience to consider how connected dance is to the community, with dance sequences taking place directly after the Reverand’s sermons. But even if so, I don’t think it achieved that at all. The giant metal beams being so dominating amongst the performers led to quite a claustrophobic feeling, which just doesn’t work for a play that is about people feeling free and ‘footloose’.
That being said, overall, Footloose was a fun, frantic night at the theatre. With recognisable songs aplenty, alongside one of the most enthusiastic and warm casts I’ve witnessed in a long time, and despite the small feeling that it doesn’t quite live up to its full potential, Footloose is certainly worth booking as it makes its way across the UK.
As a side note, while this does not impact my review of Footloose whatsoever, my seat in the Mayflower’s circle section was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had for a long time. I’m tall, but not overly so at around 6”0, and I could not sit in my seat without my knees digging into the chair in front. I could only imagine how much worse it would be for someone even taller than myself, I would be equally gutted if I had paid upwards of £30 to sit there. Others around me had similar experiences, which suggests it’s something that the Mayflower Theatre seriously needs to consider sorting out.
Footloose is running at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from May 3 – 7. You can book tickets here.