Kinky Boots, Review | Royal & Derngate, Northampton

The first UK tour of the award-winning musical, Kinky Boots, kicked off at Royal & Derngate.


Fitting, of course, to start the tour in the town at the show’s heart (the plot is based around the true story (and film adaptation) of WJ Brookes shoe factory in Earls Barton), Kinky Boots played to a packed out house in the Derngate auditorium.

Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson) has to decide between moving to London with childhood sweetheart Nicola (Helen Ternent) or learning the ropes of his family business – Price and Sons shoe factory – with his father (Andy Watkins). It’s not long before fate makes his decision for him, and he finds himself desperately trying to keep the factory afloat. Rescue comes in the hands (or should that be at the feet) of Lola (Callum Francis), a London Drag Queen whose expensive (but cheaply made) shoes keep losing their heels.

Between them, they embark on a a voyage of discovery and acceptance, not just of each other, but of themselves.

Filled to the brim with catchy numbers you’ll find yourself humming for days, glamorous costumes, gorgeous choreography and a good dose of positivity , Kinky Boots has everything you’d want from a musical.

The star, beyond doubt, is Lola – Francis literally glows with confident sexuality and more than a hint of mischief, but is also completely absorbing in the quiet, contemplative moments. Not My Father’s Son was a calm oasis of honest male emotion in what is otherwise a pretty frenetic production. That said, up until Lola’s first appearance the show trundles along at a pedestrian pace – granted there is a lot of exposition to get into a few numbers, but the audience were certainly revved up by the arrival of Lola and her Angels (Connor Collins, John J. Dempsey, Damon Gould, Joshua Lovell and Chileshé Mondelle.), and seemed to be waiting for them to return. Each time Francis stepped back onto the stage it felt like a triumph.

Playing opposite someone as superb as Francis is always going to be an unenviable task, but Joel Harper-Jackson is up for the challenge. Charlie is a strange sort of hero; a nagged boyfriend, a boss without his staff’s respect, and a man without a clear idea of his path. But all heroes must be tested before their victory, and Charlie certainly seems to go through the ringer. Despite me not being a huge fan of the song (which, if I’m honest, is mostly because of the pun in the title) Soul of a Man was a stand out number for Harper-Jackson, and a not unwelcome break from the intensity and vibrancy of the rest of the show.

The ensemble are fantastic too – Paula Lane as Lauren is excitable and charming, Demetri Lampra as Don is delightfully gruff and caveman-like, Helen Ternent is aggressively ambitious but never cheapened by being turned in to an actual villain, and Adam Price is a utter delight to watch as George – the factory foreman who’s enjoying the chance to let his hair down.

The most iconic moment must be the beautifully and precisely choreographed Everybody Say Yeah, a fast-paced song, with complicated and gymnastic dancing on moving conveyor belts, involving almost the entire cast on stage at once.

David Rockwell‘s set is something you need to witness to appreciate – seamless movement of countless bits of factory paraphernalia including racks of shoe boxes on trolleys, sewing machines and the all important conveyor belt, transport you into the picture perfect factory environment. Kenneth Posner‘s lighting too created a wonderful atmosphere, especially noticeable during Hold Me In Your Heart in Act 2.

Absolute credit must go to cast for surviving yet another show stop so early in the tour (the conveyor belt broke during previews) after a fire alarm started going off just a few minutes into the second act, sending the actors to the wings and the audience outside into the cold Northamptonshire air – not what you want when the auditorium is full of journalists! The show picked up almost exactly where it left off once we were let back to our seats, and although the first few moments were struggling a little to find the previous energy, we were soon back up to full speed.

With the book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, you feel you’re in experienced hands as you take your seat. And such a feeling is perfectly astute – this is a musical that knows what it’s doing, and how to turn what is in essence a fairly flimsy plot to a rousing piece of musical theatre.

The message behind the show is the key here – you change the world when you change your mind. Accepting one and other for who we are opens up a new world of happiness and opportunity. Kinky Boots is a fabulous riot of sequins, high heels and tolerance.

With great songs, a stunning cast and such a wonderful message, this is going to be a hugely successful tour – grab your tickets before they all sell out!

Performance: Tues 25 September 2018, Royal & Derngate, Northampton


Kinky Boots runs at Royal & Derngate until Sat 6 October 2018 before heading off on tour around the UK. Tickets available at www.royalandderngate.co.uk or by calling 01604 624811


Rebecca is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too. Bec also blogs at StageyRebel