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Review: Kinky Boots (Queen's Theatre Hornchurch)

Review by Daz Gale


Productions of Kinky Boots are like buses. You wait years for a new production to come along and then two arrive at once. But then again, you need two to make a pair. Following last months incredible concert production at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the regional premiere of the classic show arrives for a limited season in Hornchurch following a short run in Ipswich. This is a show that holds a special place in my heart, and I’m always keen to see new takes on my favourites so this was something I was very excited to see. The question is would this new production raise me up?


Based on a movie from 2005, the musical adaptation of Kinky Boots first appeared on Broadway in 2013 and arrived in the West End 2 years later where it enjoyed an uninterrupted run of three and a half years. Inspired by true events, it tells the story of Charlie Price who inherits a shoe factory from his father and after meeting Lola, decides to make a range of high heeled boots for Drag Queens in an attempt to save the business.



It's always difficult to review a different production of a show I know and love such as Kinky Boots. There’s always an argument whether you should review the show as a standalone production and not make any comparisons to other productions you may have seen previously. You never want any sort of bias to creep into a review like this and I usually try to judge a show as if I am seeing it for the very first time. However, that is not going to work with this production. Having knowledge of what Kinky Boots should contain definitely impacted my enjoyment of the evening. Perhaps if it was my first time seeing it, this review would have gone very different. But sadly that isn’t what happened so lace up your boots and let me walk you through my thoughts of this new production.


This is the first UK revival and the regional premiere of Kinky Boots, so it is admirable that it attempted to do something different in its production. You know something like this is going to have a different kind of production value and wouldn’t expect it to repeat the level of the West End production both for monetary and other reasons, so allowances are always going to be made. However, that is not a factor as to why I had a huge problem with this production. It felt to me like there was a complete lack of understanding for the show and what it should be about. Quite drastically different, the choices ranged from questionable to altogether baffling. The issue seems to lie in the direction, with characters racing through their lines and missing all the beats that either tugged at the heartstrings or elicited a bit laugh, almost like they wanted to get through the show as quickly as possible. This meant that all heart and feeling from the show were stripped away and all that was left was a soulless hole.



Matt Corner took on the role of Charlie, displaying a fantastic singing voice particularly on the rousing ‘Step One’. Keanu Adolphus Johnson was bursting with talent as Lola, but seemed to suffer at the hands of the choices regarding his character. All eyes should be on Lola whenever she is on stage, but this production seemed to allow her to fade into the background, with the usually incredible ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ falling disappointingly flat due to the decision to have a completely static Lola go through the motions while wearing the same outfit she wore to the factory in her last scene, completely losing any sort of feeling that huge showstopping number should create.


A reduced cast meant roles were doubled up, with some of them also playing instruments on stage. Seeing Lauren loiter in the background playing the keys was a new experience but Aruhan Galieva was great in her delivery of the role. The role of Don had to be filled quickly due to actor Roddy Lynch getting sick, so in just 24 hours Steve Simmonds stepped in to play the role. You wouldn’t have known he wasn’t usually in this role as he performed flawlessly .



The music and lyrics from Cyndi Lauper remain as fabulous as ever. However, new orchestrations of certain songs failed to make the impression they would usually. The bigger numbers such as ‘Raise You Up’ and ‘Land of Lola’ felt far too understated while the decision to completely change ‘Soul Of A Man’ to give it a slower and quieter start completely destroyed the impact that song should have. The relatively unchanged ‘Not My Father’s Son’ was a highlight of the production as was the always joyful ‘The History Of Wrong Guys’.


A very different set design filled the stage, with every inch filled with shoe boxes doubling as various props. While it was an interesting approach and moments of it worked, it created a very dull stage which failed to transform during the more glamorous moments. Extremely jarring video design cheapened the production unnecessarily, with distracting and ridiculous lyrics flashing up during ‘What A Woman Wants’ all but ruining the number.



New choreography failed to live up to the grandeur you would expect with characters such as Lola and her Angels, while the costumes were incredibly inconsistent. While you can give a bit of allowance for budgetary constraints, Lola’s outfits felt tacky rather than the classy looks her character should be seen in. You can still look cheap but classy, but this was never quite met,. One particularly questionable look saw Lola and the Angels dressed air hostess outfits during ‘Sex Is In The Heel’ which looked like something that would have made you lip-synch for you life on RuPaul’s Drag Race, while the aforementioned outfit Lola wore during ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ did not feel like something she would ever be seen in. One strong element the production had going for it, however, was a beautiful use of lighting which elevated certain moments in the show.


In their bold attempt to try to do something different, they have ended up diminishing something that really was beautiful. There is an argument that this could be a reflection on the original text itself, but I stand by the opinion that the writing by Harvey Fierstein and music from Cyndi Lauper put together makes a truly sensational piece of theatre. The reason this particular production failed was down to a complete misunderstanding of the show and the characters within it. Missing the key moments in the dialogue and staging itself which evoke the emotional response Kinky Boots is famous for meant there was a drastic disconnect, none more so than in the characterisation of Lola whose emotional journey we never quite understood in this iteration. Kinky Boots carries with it a truly beautiful message of inclusion and acceptance – sadly, this was completely lost in this production.



I take no joy in being so critical about any show, particularly one I hold so close to my heart. I always say I like to be constructive, not cruel when reviewing anything. I have the greatest of respect for the ambition to put on such a big production like Kinky Boots in new staging such as this. Unfortunately, when you take those risks, there is always the chance it isn’t going to be pulled off and this is one of those instances. The biggest problem with this production is its complete lack of soul (or should that be sole?. I’m sorry to say that this production is less “Everybody say Yeah” and more “Everybody say Meh”.


As always with reviews like this, please remember it is just one persons opinion and you may well have a completely different take to mine, which is the true beauty of theatre. I would encourage people to still go and make up their own mind, and please continue supporting theatre of all sizes.


★★


Kinky Boots plays at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until October 22nd. Tickets from https://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/whats-on/show/kinky-boots-the-musical/


Photos by Mike Kwasniak

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