Muddy reviews: Tap Factory
My love of tap began when I was seven years’ old. Those white ribboned shoes with their block of shiny steel underneath fascinated me – they were pretty AND they made a noise. A lot of noise. I remember wanting to run down the street in them on the way out of Toys R Us but they were only to be worn indoors, mum said (doubly frustrating as we had carpet everywhere but the kitchen).
Every Saturday, I would carry my new treasured shoes in a little zip up case and head off to tap class with my twin sister, perfecting the art of shuffle step ball change in a room filled with sunshine. They were happy days. But like most seven-year-olds, it wasn’t long before another fad kicked in – rollerskating, I believe – and the taps got hung up never to be scuffed again.
When I learned that a theatre performance dedicated to the magic of tap dancing was touring the world, I was instantly drawn back to those happy memories and curious to go and see it. This is the second UK tour for Tap Factory since 2014 proving that, at a time when everything seems to be making a comeback – from tea dances to vintage clothes and swing classes to trapeze acts – tap is enjoying a much-deserved resurgence of its own.
But the thing with this particular type of dance is that – while being incredibly skilled – it can look effortless making it potentially less engaging to watch than ballet, acrobatics or opera. This is possibly why Choreographer and Artistic Director Vincent Pausanias decided to draw on a long career in the theatre and incorporate other elements into Tap Factory such as drum percussion, displays of acrobatic prowess and slap stick comedy.
The whole performance is stripped back, raw and intimate, with just one backdrop throughout and a tiny cast of eight performers – interestingly all men – who tap their hearts out on anything they can find, including chairs and ladders.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, they also perform somersaults at the drop of a hat and perfect death defying circus tricks. At one point, the shirts come off – yes ladies, off – revealing beautifully toned bodies. Now if that isn’t engaging… Interestingly, there is no band at all, just one drum kit and anything else they can make noise on – think big barrels, drinks cans and wooden steps.
The cast is an international ensemble of dance champions, from the beautifully named Jeremie Champagne (as surnames go, this has got to be my favourite), finalist of So you Think you Can Dance in France, to Congo-born Jorffy Mayomba who specialises in hip hop, acrobatics, salsa and African dance. While there isn’t really much of a plot – a group of factory workers dancing in blue overalls – there isn’t any speaking either, something you don’t instantly notice because you are so drawn to the performance.
This is where Director Pausanias has used his nouse – the absence of dialogue gives the performance instant global appeal without the need for translators or scrip re-writes (the tour started in France before travelling to Germany and the UK; it will finale in China in November). It’s funny too, think Charlie Chaplin meets the Dream Boys but in tap shoes. What’s not to like?
In the interim, I look around at the audience of the lovely Theatre Royal in Norwich and notice two things: the auditorium is packed (somewhat surprising considering it’s the eve of Good Friday) and the age range is wide, from five to 75 and every age in between, demonstrating the show’s broad appeal.
Over a glass of wine in the lovely Adnams Circle Bar, I talk to a tap dance student who is also reviewing the performance and ask her how good the boys actually are. “They are phenomenal,” she tells me. “Tap is incredibly difficult – a foot wrong is instantly audible, particularly when six dancers are tapping side-by-side and in perfect sync. The speed is super impressive too – it’s exhausting to tap that fast for a minute, let alone a whole show.”
So, Tap Factory is a high octane, highly talented, highly watchable show that comes highly recommended.
As for me, as soon as I’ve posted this, I will be calling my mum to see if she can get my tap shoes out of the loft – they won’t fit, of course, and I certainly won’t remember how to do a shuffle step ball change, but I’m eager to tap into some more happy childhood memories.
Tap Factory runs in Norwich until 26 March before continuing its UK tour.