Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Flashdance

Tom Hedley and Robert Cary (book) and Robert Cary and Robbie Roth( music and lyrics)
Selladoor Productions, David Hutchinson, Phillip Rowntree, Runaway Entertainment, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Richard Darbourne Ltd, Matthew Cundy Productions
The Palace Theatre, Manchester
12 February 2018 to 17 February 2018

By day Alex Owens (Joanne Clifton) is a steelworker. By night she is dancer in a sleazy club. Despite her street-smart outward personality Alex’s humble origins have generated a strong inferiority complex which hinders both her aspirations to join the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and her possible love affair with Nick Hurley (Ben Adams) whose family owns the business where she works.

The movie Flashdance was a guilty pleasure with a Cinderella character and the suggestion that women dancing in sleazy clubs is somehow empowering. Reviving the stage show at a time when concern about the exploitation of women in the entertainment industry shows no sign of dying down seems odd. Perhaps this is why director Hannah Chiswick is at such pains to emphasise that the story is not set in the present day. Apart from Joanne Clifton, who escapes with dignity intact, the cast are dressed in eye-popping garish costumes by Takis that make very clear this show is set in the 1980’s – the decade that restraint and good taste forgot.

The plot, by Tom Hedley and Robert Cary, is slight and Chiswick’s efforts to find an unexplored depth create an inconsistent production. Chiswick moves away from the romance towards the murkier aspects of the story to the extent that, at times, the lighting for the show is gloomy as if the action is taking place in an oppressive factory or night club. The end of the first Act, which contrasts growing hope with an act of betrayal and leads into the big dance number, is confused rather than tense.

There is a lot of energy in Flashdance with a uniformly excellent cast throwing themselves into the show with full commitment. Hollie-Ann Lowe‘s gauche and desperate Gloria is a stand-out. Yet for all the energy there is little tension - you never really get involved with the subplot about redundancies at the steelworks and the romance between Alex and Nick is not engaging. Songs from the movie are not only performed but reprised throughout the show possibly to compensate for the fact that the new songs by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth are hardly memorable.

You do not get to become a champion dancer without talent, drive and ambition so Joanne Clifton fits the hard-bitten personality of Alex Owens like a glove. Her talents are obvious yet at times under-used in the production. Dancing is supposed to be the way in which Alex relieves her aggression and choreographer Matt Cole has devised frenzied and demanding routines which on occasions (a somersault off a bar into a partner’s arms) seems almost dangerous.

Yet at times both Clifton and Cole are ham-strung by the need to replicate on stage dance routines from the movie. Movies allow for close-ups so that Alex dancing in a tight ‘running on the spot’ routine can suggest the intense concentration of the character when caught on screen. On stage, however, it wastes the vast space available. Throughout Flashdance you keep wishing that Joanne Clifton was given the chance to show the cathartic release that can be achieved through dance and not limited to routines developed for a different medium.

Reviewer: David Cunningham