Get your dancing shoes on….
In 1992, Baz Luhrmann released the film Strictly Ballroom, which went on to become a worldwide cult classic. He took the part of Scott Hastings, a maverick young and talented Ballroom dancer who wants follow his heart and break conventions and the rigid autocracy of the Australian Dance Federation, but also longs to be in the running for prestigious Pan-Pacific title, this was the deeply competitive and cutthroat world in which Luhrmann grew up in.
In many respects Strictly Ballroom is deeply conventional, it has all the classic elements of a West End musical, a Cinderella story, where boy meets dowdy girl who has never danced before and sees through the spectacles, the brassy pushy mother, smarmy arch-baddie, glitzy costumes, spectacular dance numbers, lots of sing-along pop tunes and a happy ending. But there’s something a little off kilter, something edgy, a bit grotesque and weird that makes it sparkle oh the more.
This garish, glitzy none too shy show doesn’t hold back and there’s plenty of shamelessly exaggerated physical comedy, fake fans, fake smiles, and some slickly managed comic characters notably Scott’s mother Shirley (Anna Francolini) and girlfriend Pam (Michelle Bishop) and Gerard Horan makes a great Barry Fife, president of the federation, who has a remarkable resemblance to Donald Trump!
There were some other strong performances too, the wonderful Zizi Strallen playing the nerdy Fran (Just Fran), who following in her sisters’ (musical theatre actresses Scarlett and Summer) footsteps is a raw talent who exudes charm and brightness, and hotfooting it from East Enders (and winner of ITV’s Dance Dance Dance) with bundles of energy and slick dance work is Jonny Labey as Scott Hastings.
This production comes with the addition of a new character in the form of Wally Strand, a narrator come retro compere, who on most nights is played by the one and only Will Young, however on the night of my visit I was dismayed to discover that he wasn’t on and his understudy Ivan De Freitas was taking the role of Wally (I might say that the theatre didn’t inform the audience). Once I’d got over my of disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed De Freitas’s sharply executed, rather mischievous portrayal, his strong voice and demanding presence really made the part his own, sequins and all, watch out Will! However I suspect that Will Young is a bit of a crowd puller, so he had better not be gone for long.
Drew McOnie’s glorious precision tooled choreography made me want to get up and dance and Catherine Martin’s costumes were wonderfully sumptuous, colourful and spangled with no holds barred.
Soutra Gilmour’s set has all the makings of an Eighties bar, stacked high with wrought iron staircases and crumbling brickwork, which make a fabulous backdrop for the all dancing garishly dress ensemble with smiles to match.
There are no original songs in this show but instead it relies on over 40 classic pop favourites, including: Let’s Dance, Get Up Stand Up, Get Down On It, Love is in the Air, Dancing with Myself, I Wanna Dance with Somebody and Get Up Stand Up many more, and by the time of the curtain call many people were up and dancing in the aisles, .
Strictly Ballroom is fun, fun, fun all the way, it’s by no means subtle, but I was totally uplifted, and left with a big smile on my face.
Strictly Ballroom at the Piccadilly Theatre Until 20 October
Fancy seeing STRICTLY BALLROOM? Well, you can book tickets here for this and other West-End theatre productions