Theatre review: Kinky Boots – Manchester Opera House

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is an award-winning author, editor and publisher from Leeds, now based in Manchester. He runs Dog Horn Publishing and is Director and Writing Coordinator for Young Enigma, a writer development programme for LGBT young people.
Adam Lowe

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kinky Boots the musical. I’ve been a huge fan of the movie since I saw it on a wobbly ferry to Amsterdam, and I thought it unlikely anyone could hold a torch to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Lola. But I’m pleased to say that the stage show goes one further – I completely forget about the film! It was a high-heeled extravaganza.

Callum Francis revels in his role as the red-booted diva. Seeing him onstage, he really does drag justice (and I should know). It’s a pleasure to watch him so comfortable and free in the role – because that’s what drag should be. I previously wrote that I was a tad disappointed in a stage version of Rocky Horror, where the lead didn’t quite convince as the transvestite Frank N. Furter. But there’s none of that here, and Callum really seems to embrace the role.

Despite the gripes of some critics, I also love the songs by Cyndi Lauper. The numbers feel exciting and well suited to the production. I remember thinking that each one felt like a pop classic I could’ve sworn I’d heard before. They were instant favourites and familiar enough that I wanted to sing along even though I didn’t know the words. I went home and listened to the soundtrack on repeat.

Plenty of my drag friends were in the audience (Anna Phylactic, Liquorice Black, Lill Queen) and they also loved it. They were singing the songs days afterwards – a definite sign of an enduring legacy to come! I can see a lot of Lolas on the Manchester drag scene over the next few months.

The outfits, too, are spot on. My sole gripe (and this isn’t really much of one) is the odd meaty tuck among the backing dancers – but if that’s the only negative I can give about the whole production, that just shows how fabulous it is. The shoes, the wigs, the choreography – it all seems effortless. More importantly, every cast members appears to be having fun, and this brings a kind of liberating joy to the proceedings.

The script is quite witty, too. Yes, the plot is traditional and if you’ve seen the movie, there aren’t any major surprises – but we’re here for Lola, not Shakespeare! And Lola steals every scene she’s in.

Callum Francis (Lola) and Joel Harper Jackson (Charlie)

Joel Harper Jackson as Charlie, meanwhile, holds his own beside the towering, shimmering Lola. His singing is a real positive, and his chemistry with both Lola and Lauren (played by Paula Lane) helps the show reach all the right notes.

At its heart, despite the red leather and sequins, this is a very touching bromance between two very different men, which culminates in saving a community and a business. There are so few positive male relationships on stage or screen that this one really stands out for its bravery and gusto.

In short, Kinky Boots is a powerful, glittering success, which packs an emotional and empowering wallop. I think it will become the most iconic version of the story, not least because of Lauper’s epic soundtrack, and offers something unique among big production musicals – which still so rarely centre diverse characters.

Kinky Boots is at Manchester Opera House until 1 December, and then continues its UK tour to Edinburgh.

Book online at ATG Tickets now.

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