“Tap” suggests a light touch. That’s exactly what Tap Dogs lacks. Dein Perry’s heavy-footed hit, originally made in Australia in 1995, returns to the UK with a new generation of dancers, led by Adam Garcia. Seven men in scruffy clothes and big boots clunk around a construction-site set, or up ramps and ropes that they build as they go along. When they start tapping, it’s not so much to dance as to make lots of noise, show off, have a laugh, or outdo each other, and every overamplified rat-a-tat routine is accompanied by joshing shoves and kicks, yelps of “oi!” and “yeaaargh”. We really don’t need the piss-on-boots sight gag to understand the hysterically overstated message: these are not dancers, they are workmen, regular blokes, real guys.
Once that’s been drummed home, the performers lighten up and dance a little more, thankfully. It’s mostly stompy stuff, but there are moments of mugging humour in Donovan Helma’s disco send-ups and Jesse Rasmussen’s little-boy clowning. Better are the occasional flairs of physical wit: a neat basketball-passing routine; a backlit lineup like a stop-motion photo sequence. Better still is a duet for Richie Miller and Garcia, which actually shows some lightness of touch. Miller is a nifty mover, but it’s Garcia who stands out here, as elsewhere, because you sense him getting into the rhythm and flow of the dancing.
As a production, Tap Dogs is slick and effective, with its jungle-gym set and rock-gig ambience. But its attitude is summed up in a scene where the dancers splosh around in a trough, spraying the audience with water. You can take that as just boisterous horseplay, but with its undercurrents of taunting and aggression, it doesn’t make for an entirely comfortable experience.