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Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Night Fever

It was great to arrive at the Grand Theatre on Tuesday night and for the foyer to be buzzing with families; Saturday Night Fever may have been around for over 30 years but it is still clearly able to draw a crowd. The popular film starring John Travolta was first released to cash in on the actor’s popularity in Grease and although it was created as an ’18 certificate’, it was cut and dubbed to make it more suitable for family viewing. Our nostalgic memory of white suits, disco balls and amazing dance scenes is perhaps at the expense of the coming-of-age storyline and themes of poverty, hopelessness, gang violence, oppression, religion and repression. For those families who were expecting Strictly-with-a-Story, the frequent swearing, barely-suppressed anger and overt sexuality of the piece may have been something of a shock.

From the opening footage of President Jimmy Carter talking of the austerity of the times, a breadline of gas-can toting, brown nylon-wearing people emerged. This clearly wasn’t going to be the plush spandex-toting clichéd view of the 70s; from the first moments we were placed firmly in a post-Kennedy idealism, post Martin Luther King assassination, post-Watergate world. By shifting the setting three years from ‘76 to ’79, director Ryan McBryde offers new insights to the characters’ nihilism – this was a time when, by the president’s own admission, the people felt that the last five years had been awful but for the first time in US history, “People believe that the next five years will be worse” (President Carter).resized_nc-Saturday_Night_Fever-113

The multi-layered opening was reinforced by the smart staging throughout; a split level set was utilised well and enhanced by a range of atmospheric and insightful projections which at one time depicted cans of paint in the shop that Tony Manero inhabited by day, at another offered the iconic geometric light atmosphere of the Odyssey Disco and at another acted as a mocking backdrop to the characters below through the words of a billboard beer commercial: ‘Enjoy Life’.

McBride has spoken of how the film’s female lead Karen Lynn Gorney’s dance ability is covered by clever camera angles and shots and that actually she is somewhat ‘wafty’, however, whilst Andrew Wright’s choreography was sharp, complex and dramatic– it was expertly executed – there was not a foot wrong all night. The film’s brilliant portrayal of familial dysfunction was never far from our minds, but the play managed to carry the potentially flat domestic scenes with a verve that kept the storyline flowing. The delicate bond between the two brothers and their complicit understanding of their parents’ expectations added pathos to Tony’s character as well as a hook for us to reflect on our own relationships with siblings, parents and God.resized_-nc-Saturday_Night_Fever-024

Paul Herbert’s musical arrangements are brave; some songs remain faithful to the originals while others were given a new twist. Jive Talking came directly from the dissonance and boredom of hanging out on too many street corners but with a touch of George Michael’s Faith thrown in to keep it fresh. The multi-talented cast sported a range of musical instruments in and amongst the action and may have, at times, felt a little more Kenny Gee than Bee Gee, however they provided the piece with a different dimension from the film or previous iterations of the stage musical.

The fact that the accents were occasionally ‘wafty’ and there was the odd distracting lighting cue and projection mis-match did not spoil the overall enjoyment. This is a good night of live entertainment and provides a glorious physical spectacle that fans of the music, dance enthusiasts and families with a high threshold for adult themes will all get pleasure from.

 

Saturday Night Fever plays at the Grand Theatre until Saturday 21 February. Tickets start at £16.50 and can be bought here, by phone on 01253 290 190 or in person at the box office.

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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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