Theatre reviews: Footloose, Pitlochry Festival Theatre | Medea on the Mic, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s new production of Footloose arrives at an interesting political moment, writes Joyce McMillan, while Hannah Jarrett-Scott gives us an outrageously divine, irreverent and lustful Medea at Oran Mor

Medea On The Mic, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

With a presidential election on the horizon – and fundamentalist Christian groups again playing a major part in US politics – it’s an interesting time to produce a brand-new staging of Footloose, the stage musical based on Herbert Ross’s smash-hit 1984 film.

Medea on the Mic PIC: Tim MorozzoMedea on the Mic PIC: Tim Morozzo
Medea on the Mic PIC: Tim Morozzo

Scripted by original screenwriter Dean Pitchford with Walter Bobbie, Footloose tells the tale of Chicago boy Ren McCormack, who moves with his mother Ethel to stay with family in a rural small town called Bomont. Ren soon discovers that popular music, dancing and drinking are banned within Bomont town limits, following a tragic accident when four young people, including the son of the local preacher Reverend Moore, lost their lives while driving home from a dance. As Ren tells us in his first big musical number, though, he just “can’t stand still”; and despite a baptism of fire from hostile townsfolk, he persuades his classmates – including Rev Moore’s rebellious daughter Ariel – to fight back against the dancing ban, and petition the town council to let them hold a school prom.

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Cue endless opportunities for big, showy 1980s hits, ranging from Holding Out For A Hero to Let’s Hear It For The Boy, and for explosive dance sequences that capture the fierce suppressed energy of Bomont’s younger generation. In the end, Footloose is something of a fairy story yet the element of wishful thinking in the plotline only makes this big, glorious and noisy show the more uplifting and enjoyable. Douglas Rintoul’s fast-paced production – featuring the same super-talented company of musician-actors that appears in the brilliant new Pitlochry production of the Carole King musical Beautiful – revolves around a terrific central performance from Luke Wilson as Ren, with Kirsty Findlay as Ariel and Robin Simpson as the troubled Rev Moore. And as ever, in Pitlochry musicals, both the company and the set (by Adrian Rees), perform miracles of transition from big-band set-pieces to tight-focus dramatic scenes; in a show that is often breathtaking in its life-enhancing energy, and sheer theatrical skill.

If the younger generation in Footloose have had enough of old-fashioned patriarchy and its rules, the same can surely be said of the mighty mythical heroine who takes control of her own story in the latest Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime drama, Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh’s Medea On The Mic.

As the play starts, Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s outrageously divine, irreverent and lustful Medea sits at a microphone in what looks like some cosmic press conference, and begins to tell a blazingly radical queer version of her story; how she all but gave up her status as a demi-god to pursue her love affair with Jason (the one with the Golden Fleece), bear him twin sons, and settle down with him in the city of Corinth – where he soon decides to dump Medea and marry the king’s daughter.

Jason appears, played in languidly virile style by Reuben Joseph, and makes half-hearted attempts at telling his side of the tale; but he is no match for his magnificent ex, with her suspicions about how the blame for the death of their children has been pinned on her, and her thrilling new life in 21st-century Berlin with her transvestite lover The Chariot Queen, played by a stunningly bold and glorious Marc Mackinnon.

Add a chorus of singing nuns who help Medea to escape from Corinth, some fabulously wild costume design by Kenny Miller, and razor-sharp direction by Philip Howard, and you have a clever, profound, anarchic and hugely entertaining version of one of the world’s great stories; and one that will surely return soon to stages in Scotland and beyond, by sheer popular demand.

Footloose in repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 26 September. Medea On The Mic, run over.