Words: Jo Henwood/Photos: Pamela Raith Photography and Jeff Price.
When the curtain rises on Tony Manero (Richard Winsor) strutting his stuff down the Brooklyn sidewalk, you know you are going to be Stayin’ Alive until the final bow.
And for those of us (only just) old enough to remember the late 70s, the moment Tony takes to the disco floor, with designer Gary McMann’s inspirational mirror, I was back in the sweaty, smoky, sticky nightclub where I first learnt to throw my moves. Harper’s Bazaar in Swansea, if you really want to know and it actually was the early 80s.
It was only Tuesday evening but Saturday Night Fever has come to town and will be here all this week at Storyhouse.
Before I went, I asked friends why the iconic Robert Stigwood movie was rated 18 – ‘Wasn’t there a suicide?’ ‘Doesn’t he rough up his women a bit?’ – but to be honest all everyone really remembers is John Travolta and his mesmeric moves in his crisp white suit and his platform shoes.
Richard Winsor, best known to TV audiences as the doctor Caleb Knight in BBC’s Casualty, trained as a ballet dancer before crafting his acting skills and I remember his outstanding performance as a contemporary dancer in Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words in 2004.
Hips can dance
Ballet especially, but also contemporary, follow strict rules but disco is a much freer style, which originated in those 1970s nightclubs. Richard certainly has the hips for it and can shimmy and shoulder roll like the best of them but during the first half I wanted him to relax more and just feel the beat. Having stepped foot on our new Chester stage only hours before opening, I wondered if it was just a little bit too cosy for the cast and he was afraid that one spin too many might mean he could end up in the front row.
Or maybe it was just that he needed to don that white suit and black heels because it’s worth the ticket price just to watch him get dressed in the tight, pants and take just a little bit too long to do up the fly. Tony’s prize-winning duet with Stephanie Mangano (Olivia Fines) was just pure disco diva from the both of them.
The underlying storyline is bleak – poverty, unemployment, subjugation of women, suicide – but never fear, the Bee Gees are here. Barry (Jake Byrom), Robin (Danny Knott) and Maurice (James Kenneth Haughan) were on stage and pitch perfect throughout. Dressed in gold suits, the trio sang hit after hit in that perfect, inimitable harmony. Night Fever, Jive Talkin’, How Deep is Your Love, More Than A Woman, I Can’t Have You – you will love it.
Saturday Night Fever is all about Tony but the rest of the cast brought high octane energy to the dance floor of the 2001 Odyssey (how inspirational must that have been to a 1978 audience!) Natasha Firth’s solo as the dejected Annette was beautiful and Olivia Fines’s dancing a treat.
I hate rating reviews with stars as I find it such a crude measure. I would give that opening night performance three but class it overall as five star entertainment. Hence, remembering my 1970s maths classes with Mr Stratton, I give it a four.
Saturday Night Fever, a Bill Kenwright Production, is at Storyhouse until Saturday, September 14 at 7.30pm with matinees on Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Saturday 14. Tickets from £20.50 to £46.50 – each ticket is subject to a £1.50 booking fee. Visit www.storyhouse.com, call 01244 409 113 or visit Storyhouse, Hunter Street, Chester, CH1 2AR
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