SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2023
Production Photo: Melissa Gordon
Let’s get this out of the way first - Ravara Productions' Footloose, directed by Kerry Rodgers, is a terrific spectacle of a musical. The beating heart within is expressed colourfully and vibrantly, highlighted through committed acting and truly top-notch group choreography where the synchonicity, velocity and raw expression is often absolutely joyous.
But in my eyes, this Footloose stands to be remembered for so much more, which I believe is the best praise I can offer to Rodgers and her gifted cast and crew. To me it is a tribute to what we leave behind and an examination of the significance of gathering and reflecting on those memories in the process of moving forward. It is, in a tonal sense, like Christopher Reeve's Superman meets John Hughes – a sensitive confrontation of unexpected frailty tied in with a forceful façade in pursuit and accomplishment of enriching entertainment.
At its core, it's the story of a guy named Ren (Ben McCamley) and a girl named Ariel (Anna Guest) who come together and help people of all ages to loosen up and dance. In being so, it seems like the perfect musical for our time, with the inner persuasion that safety and security are reeled back for the sake of "breaking free" – but for what, and why? In not only depicting youthful aims but asking the crucial questions surrounding them, Ravara's Footloose successfully echoes the complications of protection and fortification, implying that physical and mental health is not merely there to be looked after, but exercised. That unwinding doesn't have to only be about winding yourself in, and that our inhibitions can, after all, be released, in a direct, explosive and refreshingly raw depiction of truth and life.
Footloose is very easy to both like and admire. It finds the amiable strengths and relatable weaknesses that lie in the centre of its characters' desires, with the fears of not belonging and the effects of change prominently and thoughfully depicted amidst all the excitement. It's about the perception of an unstoppable force or an immovable object being broken down by nature - in Ren and Ariel, we see a sort of Superman and a sort of Supergirl having to bear a responsible burden they clearly don't wish to bear, with the questions of what we can do, what we should do and genuine purpose hanging on their shoulders throughout. In that sense, the duo are the heart of Footloose - a popular musical reborn as the representation of societal desire in the midst of the restrictive and retentive, a metaphor and an inspiration for numerous generations.
Footloose runs at The MAC, Belfast, until Saturday September 2. For more information, click here.