REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on York Stage’s Kinky Boots ****

Bootiful moment for Damien Poole’s Charlie, left, and Samuel Lewis’s Simon/Lola in York Stage’s York premiere of Kinky Boots

York Stage in Kinky Boots, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

YORK Stage director-producer Nik Briggs has made an astute judgement in deciding to bring out the British qualities that marked Julian Jarrold’s 2005 film version of Kinky Boots in his York premiere of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s 2012 musical.

For all its parochial Northampton setting, the American coupling of writer Fierstein and songwriter Lauper had crafted a show more rooted in grander Broadway stylings.

Briggs has retained the glitz, but located the grit too, making Kinky Boots more in keeping with Billy Elliot, Calendar Girls or even Harold Brighouse’s 1915 comedy-drama Hobson’s Choice, while still striving to match the glorious drag staging posts La Cage Aux Folles and Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical.

Whether on Broadway, in the West End or now at the refurbished Grand Opera House, Kinky Boots applies a thigh-high boot up the derriere to prejudice and intolerance, championing diversity and rallying to the cause of letting people be who they are.

The Price & Son factory in York Stage’s Kinky Boots

Charlie Price (Damien Poole) needs to learn that lesson, just as his father, factory boss Mr Price (Martyn Hunter), did before him.

“Inspired by true events”, the setting is Price & Son, a fraying shoe factory on its last legs, where Charlie feels duty bound to fill his late father’s outmoded shoes, even though factories all around have lost their sole and closed.

Girlfriend Nicola (Nicola Holliday) wants him to climb the property ladder in London, but Charlie has only gone there to please her, his boot laces still tied to his hometown and his family’s loyal workforce.

He needs more than a patriarchal conscience, however. He requires a new direction and so does Price & Son. Help sashays his way in the fabulous form of Lola (York stage debutant Samuel Lewis), an outré drag act, seeking sturdy yet slinky stilettos for not only his act but all his attendant Angels drag queens too.

Coming to blows: Finn East’s Don takes on Samuel Lewis’s Simon/Lola in a boxing challenge

Outwardly poles apart, nevertheless they find common ground: both Charlie from Northampton and Lola, boxer’s son Simon from Clacton, have endured struggles with meeting their fathers’ expectations.

Poole has all the assurance, singing craft and emotional connection that characterised his lead role as Buddy in York Stage’s Elf, but he has to negotiate the rather forced sudden switches in tone in Fierstein’s script that do not wholly convince.

The buzz surrounds Samuel Lewis’s swaggering, staggeringly good performance as Lola/Simon. What a singing voice, one to catch you like when you first heard Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville.

He can do the drag queen moves too, the shrug, the catwalk twirl, the eyes, but what marks him out is his ability at characterisation: beneath the glam carapace, the waspish putdowns and the bold front of Lola, he shows Simon’s wounded core. The complete performance, in other words.

Second York Stage new signing Amy Barrett, who has moved to the city to teach drama, brings zest, resourcefulness, fun and not a little cheek to Lauren, the factory worker on the path from chorus line to lead. Nicola Holliday does not bat an eyelid at having to be myopic, miserable, irritating, as Nicola.

Bringing to heel: York Stage’s cast members pull on the boots for the finale to Kinky Boots

Finn East is a knockout, as he so often is as the factory neanderthal, Don, while Katie Melia’s Pat, Andrew Roberts’s Harry/Delivery Guy, Jack Hooper’s George and Jess Main’s Trish all have their moments. So do Harry Kennely and Harrison Turner-Hazel’s Young Charlie and Jacob Clarke and Tom Hampshire’s Young Lola.  

AJ Powell’s choreography brings out the best in both Lewis and the factory-worker ensemble, and seeing is believing with the cross-dressing Angels, where “they do boys like they’re girls”, as Blur once sang, with such swish relish.

Fierstein’s book is uneven, veering towards the histrionic on occasion, revelling in Lola’s drag queen but dragging a little too. Lauper’s lyrics are sassy; her songs are not overt pop hits but carry the panache and drama that big musical numbers should, especially Sex Is In The Heel and What A Woman Wants.

A word too for the band, under Stephen Hackshaw’s direction in the first week, and especially for Jessica Douglas, who has dashed back from her wedding to resume musical-director duties for week two.

As for the boots, they even outstrut York hen parties on a Saturday night.

York Stage’s Kinky Boots is a shoe-in for drag-queen drama and bootilicious songs

 Samuel D Lewis’s drag queen Lola, centre, has a laugh with the Angels ahead of York Stage’s York premiere of Kinky Boots opening tomorrow

THE stage has always been the place to break down boundaries first, to give everyone a voice, to celebrate individuality but common humanity too.

All the more so in this age of diversity and letting people be whom they are, when the York premiere of West End hit Kinky Boots can apply a particularly glittery boot up the backside to prejudice and intolerance in the wake of such drag staging posts as Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and La Cage Aux Folles.

Nik Briggs’s company York Stage will be pulling on the thigh-high boots and staggering stilettos from tomorrow (16/9/2022) to present the York premiere of a joyous show with 16 songs by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Tony-winning Harvey Fierstein to add yet more sparkle to the newly refurbished Grand Opera House.

Leading players Damien Poole (Charlie Price) and Amy Barrett (Lauren) get to grips with a thigh-high boot

“What perfect timing,” says Nik of a storyline where young Charlie Price must step into his late father’s outmoded shoes to run Price & Son, a fraying Northampton shoe factory on its last legs.

“Charlie has to take over this ageing institution that his father has looked after so dutifully at a time when all the other shoemakers are closing. In the light of what’s happened in the past week [with the passing of HM The Queen], it’s even more poignant, especially when they talk of Charlie.

“But it’s also an uplifting show, so it’ll be a lovely show for people to see at this time when they need a lift.”

Charlie’s Angels: Damien Poole’s Charlie Price with two of the Angels in Kinky Boots  

Charlie’s girlfriend wants him to climb the ladder in London, but he seems tied by the laces to his hometown, his workforce, especially when help swishes into view in the unlikely but fabulous form of Lola, a drag queen supreme in need of sturdy yet slinky stilettos for not only Lola but all the Angels that strut their stuff and fluff with him.

“The whole show is based around the story of two men who grew up in the 1980s and Nineties, trying to deal in different ways with the legacy of their father. Simon/Lola’s father, who was a boxer, didn’t want him to explore his love of female clothes, whereas Charlie was always expected to take over the family business, and they come together at that point.”

Based on the true story of Steve Bateman saving a small shoe factory in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, by deciding to focus on fetish footwear, Kinky Boots has had two lives, both as a 2005 British comedy-drama film, directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, and as the Lauper-Fierstein musical directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell of Hairspray and Legally Blonde The Musical fame.

“We’ve now struck a better balance that allows the story to come across better,” says York Stage director and producer Nik Briggs

“When I saw the musical, I hadn’t seen the film, and it jarred on me as a British tale that came across as very American musical, whereas the film was very British in character,” says Nik. “I felt the musical needed to be stripped back to look at what it is to be a man in this toxic environment. I think we’ve now struck a better balance that allows the story to come across better.”

Turning his thoughts to American pop singer Cyndi Lauper’s songs, Nik says: “There are a lot of ballads, which is not what we think of from Cyndi’s pop career, but she can write a really good ballad: Soul Of A Man; Hold Me In Your Heart; Not My Father’s Son, Charlie and Lola’s ballad, which really encapsulates the story.

“The music has that electropop vibe of the late-1990s, but still feels modern and that comes through in the performances of the drag queens, so it’s very entertaining.”

The Angels size up the shoe boxes for Kinky Boots

York Stage’s cast of 25 will be led by Damien Poole, playing Charlie Price after his outstanding turn as Buddy in York Stage’s November 2021 production of Elf The Musical, and company debutant Samuel D Lewis as Lola. 

“Samuel happens to be Emily Ramsden’s best friend [Emily played Audrey II in York Stage’s Little Shop Of Horrors at York Theatre Royal this summer], and he’s got a voice like the male equivalent of Emily. He can belt almost as high as she can!” says Nik.

“Samuel is from South Yorkshire and he’s been travelling the world on cruise shows as a vocalist/performer, but he had a gap in his diary that’s enabled him to do our show.”

 If the shoe fits: Daniel Poole prepares to play Charlie Price in Kinky Boots

Another York Stage debutant, Amy Barrett, will play the show’s leading lady, Lauren, the assembly line worker. “Originally from the North East, she’s recently graduated from Oxford University, and she’s now teaching drama at schools in York,” says Nik. “She turned up at the auditions having heard of our company and she just filled the room with fun.”

When it comes to the kinky boots for Kinky Boots, “the postman keeps looking quizzically at me as he brings these boxes to the door, and I’ve been getting some very interesting sites popping up on the screen on my laptop,” says Nik.

York Stage presents Kinky Boots at Grand Opera House, York, from tomorrow (16/9/2022) to September 24. Performances: 7.30pm, Friday, Saturday, Tuesday to Saturday; 2pm, 6.30pm, Sunday; 2.30pm, Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

Copyright of The Press, York