Explores: Kinky Boots UK Tour, Bristol Hippodrome

I love musicals. One of my earliest memories is going to the Gwyn Hall in Neath (where I’m from) and watching the local amateur dramatic society performing South Pacific,  afterwards singing ‘I’m going to wash that man right out my hair’ for weeks on end. (Getting some strange looks, being only five). I’ve seen Wicked so many times I’ve actually lost count (13+ if I had to guess), and can recount that show pretty much word for word. I will happily listen to a bit of Elaine Paige on Radio 2 when my husband isn’t around to take the mick. I could go on – but you probably get the idea!

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Bristol Hippodrome

So when I had the opportunity to go to one of the opening shows of Kinky Boots UK at Bristol Hippodrome, meet some of the ensemble and have a backstage tour, it was just something I absolutely could not miss! Particularly having loved the film, and having a lot of respect for Cyndi Lauper.

Kinky Boots cast_Photo Helen Maybanks
Kinky Boots cast with the famous boots. Official photo by Helen May Banks.

For those who haven’t seen the film, or shockingly haven’t heard of the musical (where have you been? It’s won multiple awards!) the show is set in Northampton, and tells the story of Charlie Price (played by Joshua St. Clair for this performance, but usually it’s Joel Harper-Jackson). Charlie has to try to turn around the failing family business, an ‘old school’ shoe factory, putting on hold his (or possibly his fiancés) dream, of a life in London. A chance encounter with the vivacious Lola – a drag queen from Clapton who needs thigh high boots with killer heels that scream sex and are able to withstand high octane performances – leads to the discovery of a niche market, which may just save the day… But you’ll have to go and see it yourself to find out if they make a success of it!

Kayi Ushe as Lola, by Helen May Banks. 

When you think ‘Kinky Boots’, it’s quite likely thigh high red sparkle comes to mind, but the staging of the show itself is actually quite brown being set in a shoe factory. (Check me out backstage!) This however only accentuates the fabulousness of Lola and her Angels when they are in a scene. The costume design was a definite highlight, and it was quite an experience being able to view wardrobe up close behind the scenes beforehand. Some of the costumes are actually incredibly heavy, so kudos to the cast for not only dancing in those heels, but also having stamina in those outfits!

Backstage at the shoe factory!

We found out the boots themselves are made by an Australian woman, who takes 22 measurements per actor in order to create boots that are perfectly sculpted to each individual member of the ensembles legs, at a cost of £2000 per pair! (And with 48 pairs for the tour, that’s a seriously valuable boot collection).

Unfortunately for the cast they don’t get to keep them afterwards. Their boots will be used as spares or for press, just like the pair we were allowed to handle. Chris was rather taken with them as you can see….

Husband now wants a pair…

Music and lyrics for the show were written by Cyndi Lauper. There were some really fun numbers, and I particularly loved ‘Everybody Say Yeah’, the final song of Act 1 which left me smiling well into the interval (even while queuing for the loo) thanks to a toe tapping tune and the clever use of props in the choreography.

Charlie, Lauren and Lola. Official photo by Helen May Banks. 

The whole cast were great, and I loved the fact they were all ages, shapes and sizes unlike some other productions. The stand out characters/cast members for me were leads Kayi Ushe as Lola and understudy Joshua as Charlie. I’m not sure how many times Joshua has had to cover the part of Charlie, but Joshua could have been easily been the lead if I hadn’t been expecting a blonde! He was a joy to watch, especially in the final scene wearing a pair of those infamous boots. Kayi it goes without saying was outstanding as Lola, playing the role again with bags of energy, stealing the majority of laughs from the audience, generally looking utterly fabulous but also displaying a real sensitivity too when necessary in the more tender scenes.

Kinky Boots Cast by Helen May Banks.

There are some scenes that are harder to watch as the show tackles issues of discrimination, where in Northampton drag queens are possibly not seen too often and some staff in the shoe factory take issue with Lola’s assistance, with even Charlie having to deal with his own beliefs. But the overwhelmingly positive message of being yourself and accepting others for who they are is conveyed in a natural way to the story. It doesn’t feel rushed or forced and when characters change their views (in particular an especially burly fella named Dom), it comes across in a believable way despite the short time frame in which it’s done.

Bristol Hippodrome.

I’ve been to the Hippodrome before (for Wicked, Motown the Musical, Sister Act and Flashdance to name just a few…) however on this occasion we were lucky enough to be treated to a backstage tour and learn a little more about this fabulous building. Built in 1912, it’s grade II listed building, with one of the largest stages in the UK outside of London and a dome which can be opened (though this is rarely required due to the installation of air conditioning!). I’d never been backstage at a ‘proper’ theatre before and was shocked at just how big it was back there.. The production said that pretty much every thing we saw they bring with them – it must take a lot of work to move all that kit! For the audience though, it’s simply a glorious theatre, decked in the classic red and gold, and you really feel like you’re somewhere special.

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Sneaky selfie in the theatre after the tour.

Overall we had a brilliant night. There were lots of laughs, some really poignant moments, the music had me doing a little chair shimmy, and I had that wonderful emotional ‘smiling/laughing so much you almost feel like you could cry’ feeling watching the finale of the show (I know – that’s just me). As we were leaving, a couple behind us were chatting and her friend had seen the show 23 times. It’s highly unlikely I’ll go that many times, but would I go again? Most definitely! Husband equally enjoyed, so you could watch with a partner or equally it would be fun with your Mum or the girls.

The show runs until the 9th of March and tickets start at only £19.50. On a Friday, there’s an early evening showing (5pm) and a later showing at 8.30pm, then there’s a regular matinee on Saturdays at 2.30pm and all other performances are at 7.30pm.  You can book tickets here: ATG Tickets Bristol

For further information:

Official UK Tour Website

Kinky Boots UK Official Facebook

Disclaimer: I watched the show having received complimentary press tickets, however this has not influenced,y review and all thoughts and opinions are my own (unless stated, because the husband had something to add.)

Many thanks for reading as always,

Lizzie

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