REVIEW: Kinky Boots UK Tour, Royal and Derngate ✭✭✭✭✭

Mark Ludmon returns to Northampton to see Kinky Boots at Royal & Derngate in the town where it is set as the show begins a new UK and Ireland tour

Kinky Boots UK Tour Review

Kinky Boots UK Tour Cast. Photo: Helen Maybanks

Kinky Boots
Royal & Derngate, Northampton/UK & Ireland tour
Five stars
Tour Schedule

The hit musical Kinky Boots has travelled the world, from Tokyo and Australia to Finland and Poland, since its Broadway debut in 2013. With the West End production now in its fourth year before closing in January, the show has finally gone back to its spiritual roots in Northamptonshire where the story is set before heading off on its first tour of the UK and Ireland.

Northampton was once a world centre for shoemaking and is still home to many leading manufacturers – even its football team is nicknamed the Cobblers. A lot of the companies have now closed so the tale of an historic shoe factory under threat of conversion to luxury apartments has special resonance for audiences at Royal & Derngate. It is adapted from the 2005 film of the same name which took inspiration from the real-life story of traditional shoemaker WJ Brookes in Earls Barton to the east of Northampton which came back from the brink after launching the Divine footwear brand for the drag and fetish market.

Transformed by writer Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, this has proven a winning recipe for crafting a fable about openness to diversity and change. A chance encounter with a drag queen, Lola, sets young entrepreneur Charlie off on the unexpected road to save his family firm, Price and Son, by moving into kinky boots designed for men. As Charlie and his team overcome their fears of change, it becomes a joyful, exuberant plea for tolerance and understanding of each other’s differences.

None of the energy and style of the original production has been lost in its regional transfer, with associate director Dominic Shaw and associate choreographer Darren Carnall building on the template set by director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell. The set and costumes, designed by David Rockwell and Gregg Barnes respectively, are stunning, while the score, arranged and orchestrated by Stephen Oremus, remains upbeat and infectious under UK music supervisor Jim Henson.

Although I saw the production at one of its final previews, the new cast were already comfortable stepping into their roles, raising laughs and smiles throughout. Joel Harper-Jackson is lovable and charming as Charlie as he searches for his own identity when forced to take control of the family business, with a strong, soulful voice that shines in songs such as “Soul of a Man”. Paula Lane is very funny as quirky Lauper-like factory worker Lauren while Demitri Lampra is perfect as her colleague Don whose ideas of masculinity are threatened by the arrival of a sexy drag queen. But inevitably, Callum Francis steals every scene as Lola – a role he has already played in Australia. His Lola is bold, sassy and altogether fabulous but also heart-breaking in confronting her own demons. Her moving duet with Charlie, “Not My Father’s Son”, is one of many highlights of the show alongside rousing ensemble pieces such as “Everybody Says Yeah” which closes the first act.

As someone who once lived in Northampton, I was intrigued to see how the locals responded to the accents of characters who are supposedly born and bred in the East Midlands town. Despite some broader Midlands tones creeping in, nobody cared, maybe because they know it’s such a unique hybrid accent that is hard to pin down, but mainly because they were all having such a good time. The show may be rooted in Northampton but its appeal is universal and totally undeniable.

Running in Northampton to 6 October 2018 and then on tour to 23 November 2019. Kayi Ushe takes over as Lola from 10 December.

KINKY BOOTS UK TOUR SCHEDULE AND BOOKING LINKS

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