Edinburgh Fringe 2023
We enter to a great welcome. Our narrator and host greets us all and begins to introduce many of us to each other from his vantage point high above us, onstage. As the lights come down, he starts to put up his washing before realising he is short of some pegs. And so, he goes inside in search of them only to dislodge a box in which his tap shoes have been hiding. And so, we begin his journey from the 1950s, through the 60s and up to date to listen to the story of his upbringing, his $50 lesson, the influence of his grandmother, her dancing with Donald O’Connor, a fateful night in 1961 in Carnegie Hall, learning his craft in Chicago before he finds himself fleeing, to Cuba. And when there, the CIA comes calling, only to find that he has fled to Puerto Rico, or so he says…
There is something sweet and wonderful about this piece of theatre, and it is not just that it has some nostalgia, a long forgotten time, story of a more dangerous, and some claim simpler, ideal of life and the terrors of getting a big break. That’s some of it. And only some of it, is apparently true, which makes it all the more charming.
As a host, Phillips is perfect. He manages to dive from being the perfect entry point for this flight of fancy, to portraying a large number of different characters – including his grandma – with ease.
But we are here because there’s dancing. And we are asking. Phillips manages to dance away with some style and whilst many of the steps are not as tough as grandma may have had to use when dancing with Mr. O’Connor, they are wonderfully imagined for us. And it is here that the theatrical nature of the show really works incredibly well. The use of angle poise lamps with the theatre lights, the music, the wonderful use of props and the way in which each time period is shown to us all work to tremendous effect. They package the whole thing in a wonderful manner.
I think having a tap board, however, on the set would have really helped as the floor does not really allow the tap to work and the sound becomes muffled. The table – which doubles and trebles for a variety of other things – pool table and wardrobe amongst them – is better, but it still needs to help with that tap sound more than it does. The finale with the washing line obscuring Phillips above the knee, allowing us to focus on the feet was sheer genius and meant we got what we came for.
Of course, the narrative was eventually – the CIA – fanciful. The way in which he was able to dispense with the CIA man laughable – though for a UK based audience, we could believe it! That Phillips is multi-faceted when it comes to theatre is far from hard to believe – perhaps a lot less difficult than some of the story he tells – but there is a tremendous authenticity at work here and a pride in the work. There is in fact a love for performing, but also for performing well – taking account of all the theatre arts and not being dependant upon one or a small combination of them. That makes it quite a joy to watch.
But it was sold well and everyone there tapped their feet when things were working and swung their way out happier than when they entered – not bad for an afternoon at the fringe!