Review: Stepping Out, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until August 3. Box office: 01723 370541 or at

IT is possibly the best putdown ever, when asked if you enjoyed a fashionable play.

"We didn't even understand the interval," says a withering Maxine, outwardly the brashest of the Mavis Turner Tappers, who gather each week for tap-dancing classes in a gloomy North London church hall, plain strip lighting et al, where their dance attire contrasts with the drab setting in Helen Coyston's SJT design.

You will have no such problem deducting meaning from artistic director Paul Robinson's revival of Richard Harris's feelgood comedy from 1984 (pre the term "feelgood comedy" being invented in fact).

Harris, now 85, reckons this is the first ever staging in the round of his oft-performed work. This brings the dance steps and soap/sitcom drama that much closer to the audience, upping both the intimacy and the sense of communal spirit triumphing against adversity: the most contemporary beat of a show whose broad tone elsewhere can feel somewhat glib, uncomfortably so when handling such serious matters as an unwanted pregnancy and domestic abuse.

Harris tends to turn these on and off like an emotional tap; as if a hat, a stick and a well-executed routine can salve the pain, but if it feels a little too simplistic, sometimes too under-written, prone to stereotypes, especially by comparison with Alan Ayckbourn's writing, nevertheless Stepping Out remains a well-meant, big-hearted crowd-pleaser.

Performers preparing for a show is a well worn path in theatre, whether Ayckbourn's A Chorus Of Disapproval, Thoroughly Modern Millie or The Full Monty. Such dramas work because they combine the collective drive to the finishing tape with everything that undermines it, otherwise known as real life: in this case the grit of home versus the glitz under the lights.

In a nutshell, everyone here has a reason for being there, seeking a release, a refuge, from a life that is in some way discordant, unfulfilling or stultified, or too full of the expectations of others, be it family or work.

In this Eighties' world of headbands and leg-warmers, teacher Mavis (York actress Joanne Heywood, trained in dance by the late Miss Isobel Dunn, no less) never quite hides her disappointment at her underachieving professional career while briskly willing her class to improve, no matter their limitations.

The sole man in the class, David McKechnie's gentle, earnest, kindly Geoffrey, and Alix Dunmore's troubled, repressed, nervy Andy say much with few words, Robinson's direction pacing this perfectly to contrast with the bold colours painted elsewhere in Harris's eager comedy.

That comedy is spread liberally between Fenella Norman's grumpy old pianist Mrs Fraser; Claire Eden's mouthy, gum-chewing, "Shameless-style" Sylvia; Suzanne Procter's hyper, opinionated, funny Maxine and Gemma Page's tactless, fastidious, interfering Vera, one of the roles with more complexity than first apparent, as Page exposes her loneliness and inner vulnerability.

Angela Phinnimore's Rose, Sarah Pearman's Dorothy and Natasha Calland, in her professional debut as nail-chewing nurse Lynne, add to the ensemble enjoyment. Erin Carter's choreography grows from stumbling steps to a hats-and-tails final flourish that has the audience cheering, while Paul Robinson's direction does not hide the tonal failings in Harris's script while bringing out its best attributes.

Lastly, those who have enjoyed Joanne Heywood's career, whether in the York Theatre Royal pantomime or at Esk Valley Theatre, will warm again to her latest winning performance, talent on tap once more. Miss Dunn would have loved her solo dance.

Charles Hutchinson