On Village Life – amdram at its jolliest.

A friend recently took me to task, about how boring my blog has become, and not at all country-housewife. She’s right. I have started taking myself dreadfully seriously, and have bumped my bleeding heart over ridge and furrow for too long.

Here’s a review I wrote recently for our village mag…

 Stepping Out – A Play by Richard Harris, directed by Fabulous Tessa Howell

The daughter and I are horribly late, and we slide into the audience of the Old School on a rising gale of laughter. The play is ‘Stepping Out’, by Richard Harris, and it’s a comedy about the ambitions of a tap-dancing class in a village hall. There’s a lot of tap-dancing.

It soon becomes clear though, that there’s more going on than heel-toe and the odd slap-shuffle. The faffing over steps and coat-gathering hides a sharp social commentary about the character’s private lives, and the play explores social pretension and insecurity, divorce, family politics, love affairs and rotten marriages.

Horley’s version is directed by Tessa Howell, who’s gleeful in her casting, and ruthless in her mining of ironies. It’s all done so lightly and subtly that you don’t quite realise how drawn in you are, it’s like ear-wigging a terrific gossip-session in the pub, but made even more delicious, because you know (or think you know) all the people.

The village-hall set is gloriously dingy and unadorned, but even that has its secrets, the characters regularly find exhausted jock-straps and limp banana skins. Nothing is ever quite as respectable and dull as it seems.

The play is set over a few months, and the narrator calls the chronology in his best Banbury accent.

The daughter is entranced, and the audience are behaving beautifully, whooping and clapping and laughing in all the right places. Tess herself gets a special whoop, as she sprites around in a fabulous baby-pink headband, topped with a plastic cycle hat.

The goodwill soars as one of the characters, Vera (played by Vanessa Keene), turns up in a silver leotard, like some gorgeous sexy space-creature apparition. Another character, the very straight Geoffrey (played by David Kyle), is solicited for his opinion on her outfit, and for a moment the hilarity in the room is perfectly tuned to the discomfiture he’s supposed to show, but the naughty appreciation he shows instead.

The daughter is disapproving.

We’re drawn in closer and closer, leaning forward to hear Sylvia’s low-tone menopause confidences (pitched perfectly by Sue Keenan), and hissing at  Vera’s cattiness and pitying poor Andy (played by Kate Wythe), with her neediness.

The one-liners are relentless.

‘Pretend darling, like you do with your husband.’ Secret smiles all round.

Vera uses a riding crop as her cane with which to dance, provoking gleaming eyes and frissons in the audience. ‘Wow,’ whispers the woman in front. ‘Village kink.’

There are three main plot strands that drive the narrative – the unhappiness of Andy, the is he/isn’t he of Geoffrey, and whether or not Vera’s Lionel is a raving maniac with his PA. You half hope he is, because at first Vera seems so awful.

Gradually though, the characters seep into your heart. You realise that Andy’s trapped in an abusive marriage, and that – far worse than bonking his PA – Vera’s husband is having it off with his step-daughter. Suddenly Vera’s brittleness turns to fragility, and we see how frightened she is, so we all start rooting for her.

And Geoffrey – golly. Wriggling away from Andy’s advances, he reveals a rip-roaring affair with frowsty, hat-wearing Mrs Fraser (played by Louisa Shaw), the angry pianist. He strides in and takes control of the piano, whilst Mrs Fraser whips off her hat and coat to be a strident blonde in a darkly glittering frock. The audience stamp and cheer on a surge of energy, and my daughter hisses in my ear, ‘Yes, queen. Favourite bit so far’.

She’s less impressed by poor Andy’s attempt to pull Geoffrey, ‘Mummy. She’s married.’

The play ends with all the characters making it to a local talent show, and they all appear on stage for a final tap dance, wearing beautifully flattering little shorts with cheeky cut-away jackets to show-off their bottoms. They turn to wiggle at the audience.

I don’t dare look at the daughter.

More Village Kink, of the very best kind.