Stepping Out, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Strictly boredom
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The Independent Culture

After months of tap classes, Sylvia still doesn't know her left from her right, Rose can't turn around without nearly falling over, and Dorothy dances as if trying to knock herself senseless with her kneecaps. Will they get it together in time for the local charity show? If you've read this far without moving your lips, you shouldn't have trouble with the answer.

Richard Harris's mysteriously popular play of 1983 is set in a Leeds church hall, but nothing else suggests why it should be put on at a serious venue by a serious director (Ian Brown). Harris is one of those men who says, "I do actually enjoy the company of women.'' In practice, this means he likes women who have only one character trait each and continually express it in a few snappy words.

Maxine is the sarcastic member of the dance class, alluding resentfully to her teen-age stepson, "Wonder Boy'', and fretting, when he has friends round, "God knows what's happening to my Dralon.'' Sylvia, meanwhile, directs her moans at her thighs and uncooperative feet. Rose, while also moaning about her figure, is a jolly Caribbean lady who makes earthy wisecracks, stretching her lips back to her ears and laughing, "Hee hee hee!''

Andy, even deeper into self-hatred, prefaces each rare remark with an apology and flaps her hands in a constant distress signal, locking her arms against her sides. Vera not only telegraphs her one assigned trait with her dialogue ("I used to be fat too"), her constant preening, and her ostentatious costumes; she dances as if she'd never dream of anything so vulgar as working up a sweat.

Put these types together and what have you got? A sitcom that would have been thought dated and feeble 20 years ago on TV and with insufficient plot for a half-hour show. Before the big closing number, we learn that two of the women have dodgy marriages and that the teacher, Mavis, has had a miscarriage or abortion, but then it's on with the show. Harris is not only uninterested in real women, who engage in more than middle-aged moaning or pub-pal chatter, he also has no curiosity or enthusiasm about dance. We don't see the process by which Mavis teaches her pupils; we don't see anyone's joy, tinged with fear, as she realises her body can suddenly do something she thought impossible. Nor do we know why any of them are in the class.

I drew much pleasure from Elizabeth Power's droll performance as the sour old bag who plays piano for the dancers with savage condescension. And Sue Devaney's Mavis is a triumphantly realistic portrayal of a woman who, though genuinely optimistic and nice, can't cope with the bottomless demand for these qualities. Other- wise, this would-be heartwarming show was a depressing spectacle, its actors so laboriously faking the incompetence that seems to come naturally to the playwright.

To 21 July (0113 213 7700)

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