REVIEW: Kinky Boots dazzles in Milton Keynes

Alan Wooding reviews Kinky Boots at Milton Keynes Theatre

Wednesday, 30th October 2019, 10:59 am
A story of passion, drive and friendship: Kinky Boots. Picture: Helen Maybanks

What would you do if you inherited a struggling business and were on the verge of laying off its workforce? For most of us, we could blame the political shenanigans regarding Brexit, but for Charlie Price a chance meeting with drag performer Lola was to prove instrumental in saving his Northampton shoe factory.

Having watched Kinky Boots just a fortnight ago on terrestrial television, I couldn't wait to see if writers Geoff Deane and Tim Firth's comedy stage version – which opened in Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday night – would live up to the 2005 film. And it certainly doesn't disappoint.

With a giant sized pair of thigh high red leather boots in the theatre's foyer, you just knew it was going to be a fun show and the current UK tour really brings us a heart-warming story of acceptance by shoemaker Charlie (Joel Harper-Jackson) after his father passes away, leaving him to inherit the ailing Price & Son shoe factory.

Lola (aka Simon from Clacton) leads his 'Angels' in an energetic dance routine

But it's the unlikely partnership between Charlie and Lola (Kayi Ushe) and their chance meeting in London which not only saves the business, but leads to a completely new range of customised footwear for drag queens. So instead of producing the traditional smart men's brogues which the company is known for, the firm's glitzy but controversial new products manage to kick-start an unlikely success story.

With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and based on the book by Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots is packed with catchy pop songs and some enjoyable ballads which help the story along nicely.

Faced with laying off his factory workers as orders plummet while other customers cancel the stock which is already in the factory's warehouse, Charlie just wants to escape the problems and, encouraged by his fiancée Nicola (Helen Ternent), she suggests that he sells up in Northampton and moves in with her in her London flat.

However when Charlie happens upon a one-sided fight in the street, he intervenes and helps rescue drag queen Lola who has broken the heel of one of her stiletto boots. Offering to repair them for her, Lola is interested in Charlie's business and they come up with the bright idea of creating a much stronger, stylish stiletto-heeled footwear which are able to be worn by men – we're not transvestites, Lola points out, but drag artists!

I particularly loved Charlie and Lola's cleverly written number Not My Father's Son which brings to light their individual parents' expectations for their offspring.

Other notably numbers are Everybody Say Yeah and Sex is in the Heel which are accompanied by Lola’s Angels in a great energetic dance routine. The Angels are Lola's six strong fellow drag queens who strutted their stuff around the stage to the delight of the packed audience.

There are jokes and quips galore while it's not all glittery boots and costumes, for Lola is hardly warmly welcomed when he/she arrives at the Northamptonshire factory. However a boxing match with hard man Don (Demitri Lampra) becomes the crucial turning point in the way of accepting someone who's different.

Kayi Ushe is absolutely brilliant as Lola – aka Essex lad Simon from Clacton! He posses a great falsetto voice and looked a treat when singing Hold Me In Your Heart at a retirement home in his native Clacton before setting off for Italy to lead his Angels at the Milan Fashion Show.

Joel Harper-Jackson was equally believable in the role of Charlie whose vocal range was also pretty impressive while after breaking up with his fiancée Nicola (Helen Tennant) – who was desperate for him to sell the factory and turn it into luxury apartments – it opened the door for Lauren (Paula Lane) to declare her love for her boss.

There were good performances from factory supervisor George (Adam Price) and the rotund figure of Don (Demitri Lampra) whose 'man's man' quips directed at Lola ended in the aforementioned bout of fisticuffs.

The use of four conveyor belts being added to a remarkably versatile set kept the action seamlessly moving while in the orchestra pit were nine talented musicians under the direction of Richard Anderson.

I was certainly wowed by the glitzy boots and costumes and the dance routines performed by the Angels who incidentally were some of the most beautiful looking 'women' you could imagine. So it's full marks to Connor Collins, Daniel Downing, Damon Gould, Joshua Lovell, Chileshe Mondelle and Toyan Thomas-Browne and whoever helped with their make-up - they were absolutely stunning!

However it all ends up harmoniously in the finale which is a real cracker as Charlie and Lola lead the Angels on the Milan catwalk and even the most shy and timid among the audience seemed to get up off their seats to cheer this story of passion, drive and friendship. It's the ultimate story of being who you want to be and it’ll Raise You Up indefinitely.

* Kinky Boots plays Milton Keynes until Saturday 9 November with ticket prices starting at £25. Call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes to book.