Some way to go before stepping into a dark night
Shabbat laws forbid Gideon from travelling home, giving the two time to form an unlikely relationship.
Permutt loads the dice somewhat by making Gideon particularly observant, and for much — perhaps most — of this play’s uninterrupted 75 minutes Tim Stark’s well acted production intriguingly explores whether two very different people from contrasting universes have anything in common
Collins has found (indeed she commissioned the play) a character that plays to her established strengths. Her Gina is alluring and fragile, tough but psychologically brittle and it’s one of those performances that work as well in the moment as it does in retrospect, after the facts of Gina’s life with her (off-stage) husband and stroke victim are revealed. Coen meanwhile delivers a nicely judged, underplayed turn as a reluctant accountant trapped by the expectations of his family and more in love with cinema than either his job or his fiancée who works at the Jewish Museum.
But even at 75 minutes the play loses narrative steam. Gideon’s attempt to escape his life feels like a dramatic add-on, as does Gina’s hitherto hidden talent as an artist.
One directorial tip: it’s probably wise never to actually show the art created by a character, especially when it is praised to high heaven. Because when it’s as bad as Gina’s, you risk turning the sincere into the risible.
As it is, this moment arrives when this odd couple have probably taken things as far as their relationship and this play - are likely to go.
ON PAPER, it seems like a great idea. Richard Harris’s 1984 comedy was a long running West End hit and later turned into a film starring Liza Minelli. It didn’t do well on Broadway but British audiences took to heart the story about a group of women — and one man — for whom tap dancing lessons turn out to be an antidote to loneliness.
In Maria Friedman’s production, first seen in Bath, Tamzin Outhwaite was due to play teacher Mavis, but the painful swelling in her foot turned out to be a stress fracture. So at short notice the excellent Anna-Jane Casey has stepped in to play the role until Outhwaite has recovered.
But if Outhwaite’s foot was made to feel poorly due to stress caused by this show, I think I know how it feels. Because, although Friedman has conscripted a talented cast to play Mavis’s pupils, including Amanda Holden as the snobbish Vera and an in-form Tracy-Ann Oberman as the bawdy Maxine — a vision of Farah Fawcett hair and leopard skin print — Harris’s script has all the zip of a zimmer frame.
The play, which is set in Robert Jones’s well-observed design of a suitable dingy municipal hall, is old fashioned, but not in a way that allows you to wallow in nostalgia. Much of the humour relies on the cast dancing badly as Mavis attempts to drill them into a chorus line for a charity fundraiser. That’s fine. But it’s also brimful of the kind of gags that are mildly amusing at best — “It may be February outside,” says the hygieneobsessed Vera, “but it’s always August under your armpits”— and jaw-droppingly stale at worst.
In this latter category, one in particular stands out. It’s about the sole bloke of the dance group — meek Geoffrey (Dominic Rowan) — sticking out like a sore thumb. The observation is then applied to Rose (Sandra Marvin), the only black character in the play, who in the manner of racial stereotyping of the time, also has a broad West Indian accent.
It’s a shame to have to be so hard on a play that allows women characters to dominate the stage. But you leave grateful, not for the entertainment but that writing and audiences have moved on.
Collins plays to her strengths