Theatre reviews: Footloose | Mum’s The Word 2

Former pop star Gareth Gates slipped nicely into the ensemble cast of Footloose. Picture: Contributed
Former pop star Gareth Gates slipped nicely into the ensemble cast of Footloose. Picture: Contributed
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FLASHDANCE, Footloose, Dirty Dancing; it seems that for a while in the 1980s, dance became a kind of religion for a generation of teenagers.

Footloose | Rating: *** | Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mum’s The Word 2 | Rating: *** | King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

And on Tuesday night, the audience who loved those films in their youth were out in force for the first capital performance of Sell A Door’s new touring production of Footloose, based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon as Ren, the Chicago boy who moves to the small town of Bomont, only to learn that dancing is banned there, following a tragic accident some years earlier.

The plot therefore squares up for a battle between two very different kinds of faith, as the town’s charismatic pastor seeks to maintain the ban, while Ren fights to have it lifted. Racky Plews’s production has a slightly rough-and-ready air, as a 17-strong cast of harassed-looking adults and bouncy teens work with instruments in hand to provide music as well as dance and drama.

Yet David Keech leads the music in style, from an onstage drum-kit behind an old screen-door; and with attractive, good-hearted performances from Luke Baker as Ren, Hannah Price as his love Ariel and Gareth Gates as Ren’s pal Willard – and a star turn from Maureen Nolan as the pastor’s wife, Vi – the story romps through to a rousing conclusion, reprising the show’s biggest hits, Holding Out For A Hero and Let’s Hear It For The Boy, to roars of audience approval.

And if the story of Footloose revolves around an epic battle between teenagers and parents, then Mum’s The Word 2 – the latest show from the cabaret-style franchise based on real-life verbatim experiences of motherhood – pursues the same theme, opening with a first half that reprises some familiar-sounding material on childbirth and the gruelling demands of toddlers, but moving on to the sometimes frightening rollercoaster of rejection, anxiety and fast-shifting boundaries involved in parenting an adolescent.

Wayne Harrison’s production is put together in simple, unpretentious Fringe-theatre style against a bright backdrop of what look like giant nursery blocks; and some of the show’s visual ideas and set-pieces work better than others – the first act offers a fine comic sequence about a mother and toddler trying to get dressed after a swim, which ends in a richly enjoyable flash of nudity.

In the end, though, the success of Mum’s The Word depends heavily on the wit and wisdom of the performers, both in its comic elements, and in its exposure of the often-hidden pain of parenthood. So there’s Jane McCarry as the woman whose son – once a tiny premature miracle – ends up on drugs charges; Lorraine McIntosh as the exhausted middle-aged mum suddenly tempted by another man; Suzie Maguire as the woman taking her daughter to buy a first bra; Libby McArthur communicating with her partner through humorous but furious letters stuck to the fridge door; and Julie Wilson Nimmo as the harassed mum of that swimming toddler – all fine actors bringing shape and depth to the raw material through the sheer warmth of their personalities, and the strength of their shared female experience.

• Footloose at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today; and King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 13-18 June. Mum’s the Word 2 at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today.