Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Heavy Arts: Flashdance

I mentioned Heavy Arts Theatre School in my article on The Base Studios, Huddersfield on 2 March 2013. On 25 and 26 May 2013 Heavy Arts presented Flashdance at The Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. I bought tickets for myself and a friend largely out of loyalty to the show's producers. I had expected a good amateur performance but nonetheless an amateur one. In fact the show exceeded my expectations. It was good. by any standard.  It was exuberant. It was energetic.   It was polished. It was poignant.  And in some scenes it was funny.

Based loosely on the film which grossed over US$201 million in box office receipts the musical tells the story of how Alex, a young woman working in a Pittsburgh steelworks by day and in a bar by night with very little formal education achieves her ambition of becoming a dancer against all the odds.  There are a number of sub-plots.  Her employer's nephew, Nick, uses his influence to get Alex an audition.  Her friend, Gloria, is tempted away to a pole dancing joint where she is abused by its owner, Kool and has to be rescued by Alex.  Alex's mother, Hannah, is shot in an armed robbery by  Jimmy, Alex's first date, who is desperate to raise a few hundred dollars.

This plot provided a setting for some good songs and even better dancing.  A triumph for the producer, director and choreographer Sean Sedley and the producer and general manager Matt Slater.  Sedley and Slater coaxed the best out of their cast - Caroline Hamilton who played Alex, Alex Jones who played Nick, Leah Varnam who played Hannah, Lawrence Guntart who played Jimmy, Oliver Burkill the sinister Kool and Florence Anstey, Beki White and Macy Varnham who played Alex's friends, Gloria, Keisha and Jazmin. They were all good - as indeed were the performers I have not mentioned - and it would be invidious to single out any of them out for special praise.

The scene changes were slick moving convincingly from a steel mill to Hannah's dry cleaning shop, a ballet school, Alex's flat, Kool's Bar and so on.  There were some difficult technical effects such as the end of the first act when the heroine was doused in what appeared to be a jet of water.  I struggle to see the point of that scene but it was still impressive.

There was just one detail that did not quite work for me and that was the accents.   For most of the audience it would not have mattered but having lived and worked in the USA they grated on me.  Pittsburgh is a steel town in Western Pennsylvania rather like Sheffield.  Like Sheffield it has its own distinct speech patterns that are recognizable instantly in America. "Still" for "steel", for instance, and "yous" for the second person plural. There are some good examples on YouTube. The actors managed something vaguely transatlantic but it was not Pittsburgh. The show would have been even better for me had the company stuck to their native speech.. Either than or they find themselves a good dialect coach.

According to the programme  Flashdance is the company's tenth show since 2007 and they have tried some very ambitious productions.  I look forward to their next show.

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