“A feel-good show displaying punchy moves and strong vocals…

The Foot of the Hill Theatre production of Footloose the musical, directed by James Strand, is a feel-good show displaying punchy moves and strong vocals. Performed in the spartan setting of St Mary’s Dining Hall, the cast have nowhere to hide.

This American musical, set in the 80s conservative town of Bomont demands high-energy, celebrating the power of dance and rebellion. Since the area’s infamous car accident killing four school children, one being the Reverend’s son, public dancing has been banned. The story then follows the rebellious teen spirit of Ren (recently moved to the area) as he challenges authority and ignites a dancing revolution, culminating in success. The role of Ren is fulfilled by Kai Heale, who maintains the characteristic sense of teenage angst.

A sure strongpoint of this musical is the impressive amount of varied dancing – all well learnt and in sync. These quick-footed moves (choreographed by Maddie Combes and Catriona Eke) bring a dynamic sense of energy and playfulness. The most dramatically spirited scenes are the collaborative ensemble work, with the audiences’ eyes drawn to Grace Pawson for her balletic dancing and emotive facial expressions. At moments the performance would benefit from the dancers also singing or at least lip-syncing with the rest of the cast, to create more collective unity between the ensemble and to thereby dispel some awkward silences. The dancers’ use of the aisle helps make the performance space more intimate and immersive, further engaging the audiences’ attention. Meanwhile, the directorial decision to seat the actors alongside the audience during the Reverend’s congregation, almost breaking the fourth wall, cleverly blurs the distinction between the audience and the actors as if we were part of Bomont’s church service.

The ‘preacher’s daughter’, played by Sasha Rosenbaum in Ariel’s signature red boots, radiates confidence, engaging the audience with her magnetic facial expressions and consistent strength in high-pitched vocals. At times these vocals did lack projection, but this is symptomatic of a wider flaw which hinders the musical: its use of tech. The painfully slow transitions make for a somewhat disjointed flow, coupled with the lagging train noises feeling clunky and unprofessional. Moreover, the strong vocals are repeatedly drowned out by the backing track. One exception to this is during the rendition of ‘Learning to be Silent’ where the characters of Ariel, Ethel (Tash Dower) and Vi (Isabella Cable) shine in a powerful union of femininity, reaching pitch-perfect heights. Rosenbaum’s sensitive portrayal of Ariel evokes pathos especially during her interactions with the Reverend (Abdullah Lufti), exposing a poignant comment on parenthood with Ariel frustrated by his ‘closed mind’ that only ‘looks for the bad in people’ perhaps due to his grief-stricken existence.

The show deeply benefits from its teasing out of comedic moments, with notable mention to Francesca Singh, playing the character of Willard, whose comedic timing is perfected in her catchy song ‘Mama Says’ serving as comedic relief, encouraging the audience to clap along. Similarly, Strand is convincing in his role of high-school coach, with a sculpted American accent and witty one-liners which land every time.

The final number is a credit to the cast’s commitment to energy and passion, and one thing’s for certain: ‘everybody cut loose.’

By Ella Brannen

Footloose will continue to show at 20:10 on Saturday the 17th and Sunday the 18th of February in St Mary’s Dining Hall, St Mary’s College DH1 3LR

Photo Credits: Foot of the Hill Theatre Company