One thing that guarantees an audience’s enjoyment of a play, is if the cast are enjoying it first. Even if a voice cracks here or there, when I see someone smile on stage, I’ll smile back. And I was smiling back a lot with FFBOS’ ‘Footloose’. The varied cast worked hard to bring to life a difficult but brilliantly written musical, making sure they highlighted the great lyrics and hilarious one liners – being excited at getting ‘mugged by people you don’t even know’ and exacerbated mothers contemplating ‘taking up smoking’ put a smile on every face.
What made me smile the most, however, was how well the cast worked as an ensemble – their group pieces were so great, especially in the BBQ Bar that saw some lovely choreography, brilliant acting and the fantastic physical comedy (and brilliant accent!) of Julian Maple as Willard. We were treated to more Willard in the hilarious ‘Mama Says’ number. But the show stealers were preacher’s daughter Ariel’s (Lucy Beasley) three ditsy hangers on, Rusty (Carmel Hendry), Urleen (Sophie Kingsley) and Wendy-Jo (Faith Morgan). Any number they were involved in was my new favourite, and they were singing a lot those three girls, so I had a new favourite fairly often! They harmonised like professionals and out-acted a lot of their fellow cast members.
Yet there was one man who could never be out-acted. Performance of the night had to go to Andy Nicol (Reverend Moore). A part that could so easily be acted as simple self-righteous preacher, Nicol really grabbed all of the brilliantly written character, creating a man conflicted from the start. This made his final change of heart that much more believable and moving – his final sermon was fairly tear jerking! Nicol grabbed the audience from the very beginning as the play moved (commendably effortlessly) from Chicago to a Sunday service in Bomont. Nicol only had a few solo moments but that was more than enough to make you wait on the edge of your seat for his next more substantial moments to wow you with an expert and expressive voice. I would have loved to her Nicol sing the powerful ‘I Confess’ from the original musical that was cut in this production.
Given that Nicol gave such a powerful performance, one has to commend anyone else on stage with him for not being out-shone; Chris Andrews’ wonderful voice as lead character Ren McCormack held up very well, and Claire Svoboda as the Reverend’s wife did excellently in bringing to life the silent yet fiercely strong Vi without letting her fade away into a wall-flower.
Yet despite these shining moments and performances, there were a few moments that could have been smoothed out, made slightly snappier with a bit more 80s spunk and a little more annunciation. While the singing was on the whole of an exceptionally high standard, there were a few soprano moments that were a bit too ‘shouty’, which was a shame as those voices proved in other moments that they were more than capable of belting those high notes effortlessly – opening night tight-throated nerves perhaps? However, the most distracting, and slightly frustrating, shortcoming was the sound. Microphones being switched on a line or two late, some on and some off making certain performances audible while others were drowned out by the live band. There was even a moment when a microphone was left on backstage for a while.
But honestly, the cast worked so hard, the band was brilliant (especially busy percussionist Bülent Ali), the disco-like lighting was fantastic and it was just plain fun. As amateur theatre goes, FFBOS did hugely well and put a smile on so many faces – what more can you ask?