REVIEW: Saturday Night Fever, Mayflower – 7 January 2015
Posted by Andy Goddard
Posted in News
As I was watching this stage revival of the 1977 classic film, it occurred to me that there were many similarities between this production and how I first came to encounter Travolta and co.
The show is produced by the Theatre Royal in Bath – the city of my birth – and the place where a whole gang of us descended on the Beau Nash cinema in the late 70s for the event.
And let no teenager of the time forget… just like ‘Jaws’ and ‘Grease’ – this was an EVENT! Hands up all those who then went on to attend dance schools to learn the moves which we then unleashed at the local Tiffanys every Friday night.
Centre to the film were the amazing dance routines. We had never seen anything like this before, and all praise should be given to Danny Bayne who plays Tony Manero in this stage production.
What a find! Dance is his forte, that is clear. He was the overall winner of itv1’s ‘Grease Is The Word’, and then went on to more than two years of sell-out shows playing Danny Zuko at the Piccadilly Theatre in the new London production of ‘Grease’.
All of us in the cinema at the time were absolutely shocked at the dark storyline too, not least with the appalling language in the film. I don’t think many of us had heard the ‘c’ word used before. Thankfully, the bad language from the film is toned down in the stage production, but much is still there.
It is that gritty story which director Ryan McBryde wanted to focus on here, although in the programme notes he admits he was not impressed when he saw the dubbed and heavily edited family version as a child. It was only when he got to see the original version that he realised how good the storyline was.
That story seems never-ending in all time zones of society… underachievement, wanting to do better, boy meets girl who doesn’t want him, girl meets boy who doesn’t want her, an opportunity to win a competition, tragic ending.
But let’s not forget that the story also has humour, which thankfully is brought into this production too. Yes, there’s Tony’s ‘watch the hair’ and the ‘watch the shirt’ routines which certainly generated laughter. Also Tony’s getting-ready-for-the-disco-by-using-the-mirror routine certainly generated a few ‘whoops’ of pleasure from certain areas!
He can certainly sing too, and there are some other fine performances, not least from the club singer Cici Howells, who can also play a host of musical instruments.
In fact, all the musicians were excellent, playing an array of equipment all over the stage, both moving (as with the brass and saxophones) as well as static with drums and keyboard.
There are some flashes of technical brilliance too – for example, the rain falling during the bridge scene. However, there were also occasional annoying technical issues in the form of the moving pictures projected onto the set to convey where we were (the park, the bridge etc).
Something was not quite right with the actual projector which meant the whole image also moved up and down within the space it was projected onto. It was clearly not meant to do that and sometimes marred the overall effect.
Performers also need to know the difference between voice projection and shouting. Many of the lines were inaudible – and I was only seven rows back from the stage.
The classic songs have also had a contemporary overhaul in places, with certain lyrics refrained to emphasise the plot – and clearly this will not be to everyone’s liking.
Some of the songs weren’t even remotely around for the original; why on earth was ‘Tragedy’ in there, for example?
Rather than end on a downer, the show ‘stepped back’ a little to return to a medley of songs for an upbeat ending, clapping and audience participation. But it was all a bit late. The songs needed to be much bigger than they were all the way through, and not just at the end of each act.
This show was a brave attempt – but maybe it was a little too brave for some.