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Strictly Ballroom at New Wimbledon Theatre

Oh, I do love a good romantic story, and one of my favourites is Baz Luhrmann’s award-winning 1992 rom-com Strictly Ballroom. This story of an unlikely love in the world of competitive dancing really caught my eye and is one of those go to movies for a wet Sunday afternoon curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine and a bag of popcorn. Strictly Ballroom made the transition from screen to stage and had a successful run in the West End but unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see it, However, I made up for this error by trotting down to the New Wimbledon Theatre with my friend Lynne, where the touring version touched down this week. Did the stage live up to or beat the screen? Read on and find out.

Kevin Clifton - Credit Ellie Kurttz.
Kevin Clifton – Credit Ellie Kurttz.

Since the age of six, Scott Hastings (Kevin Clifton) life has been working towards one goal, becoming the “Pan Pacific Grand Prix Amateur Five Dance Latin American Champion” and this was going to be his year. His mother Shirley (Nikki Belsher) knows it, his teacher Les Kendall (Quinn Patrick) and Scott, along with partner Liz (Agnes Pure) knows it. This is going to be the culmination of everything Scott has worked for, and yet, the boy is not entirely satisfied. Part of him is dissatisfied with having to dance in the way ordained by the all-powerful Australian Dance Federation under President Barry Fife (Gary Davis). The rebellious part of him is growing until it suddenly bursts out at the Southern Districts Waratah Championships where Scott breaks the rules by dancing his own steps. The repercussions of this break with tradition are huge, with Liz breaking their partnership apart and seemingly everyone – except his father Doug (Mark Sangster) who just potters around in his own world – condemning Scott’s recklessness. Scott is alone, partnerless and with only three weeks until the Pan Pacific, not sure what to do next. Maybe the answer lies with young Fran (Maisie Smith), an overlooked beginner in the Kendall studio who just might have ideas of how to help Scott achieve his true dream.

This is a difficult review to write as I love the original movie so much. In fact, “Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias!” is the only full sentence of Spanish I can say, apart from ordering a beer. But putting the film away, let’s look at this production. And it’s definitely a show to be looked at. Mark Walters’ versatile set is wonderful and the costumes are an absolute dream. The ballroom sequences look as amazing as you would expect – if you’re old enough then turn your mind back to when Sir Terry Wogan hosted ‘Come Dancing’ and you’ll know what I mean. So visually, the production is off to a flying start. Director and Co-Choreographer, along with Jason Gilkison, Craig Revel Horwood has followed Baz Lurhmann and Craig Pearce’s original book and the show is based more on the original Australian production than the UK one, which I think is a really good move. The choreography is stunning and both Lynne and I were really impressed at how well everyone slotted together. At times there were six couples all dancing in pure ballroom on what is a relatively small stage, and effortlessly gliding around without ever appearing to bump into each other or look as if they were out of place. Masterful choreography and direction from Craig there. I suppose my one minor gripe with the staging is that it is very much played for laughs, and there were scenes that to my mind should have been more atmospheric and romantic than they were. However, going by the noise around me, I was probably in a minority on this.

Leaving the theatre, Lynne could not sing Maisie Smith’s praises high enough, and I have to agree with her. Maisie really shone in this production as Fran. From the timid, ill-dressed mouse at the start of the first act to the beautiful confident dancer in act two, Maisie takes the audience along Fran’s journey with style and grace. A truly awesome performance from a true triple-threat actor, singer, and dancer. Whilst I liked Kevin Clifton as Scott, to me he didn’t entirely work. In my mind Scott is a young man – probably late teens/early twenties – on the verge of finding his true self and, to me, Kevin felt a little too mature for the person that Scott is. Having said that Kevin has an amazing stage presence and is, as you would expect, a wonderful dancer. When he and Maisie were dancing together, it was almost impossible to take my eyes off them. The rest of the cast were uniformly great. Both Nikki Belsher and Agnes Pure were wonderfully over the top as Shirley and Liz respectively, and while he looked way too much like ex-President Trump for comfort, Gary Davis was truly horrible as Barry Fife, adding a lot of comic relief to the show, particularly when in bed.

I’m also going to mention the band under Musical Director Dustin Conrad. I was really surprised that it was only a six-piece band as the musical accompaniment felt that it was coming from a much larger group of people so full credit to them for creating such a great sound.

There is much to like about this production of Strictly Ballroom and some definite highlights for me. ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, perhaps’ is one of my favourite songs in the movie and I didn’t think that version could be topped, but hearing it sung in Spanish by Rico (Jose Agudo) and Abuela (Karen Mann) while Scott and Fran did their dance left me with goosebumps. And I can’t go without mentioning the Paso Doble at the end of Act one. Wow, just wow. What a way to end the first act.

Ultimately, Strictly Ballroom works. It’s a musical that makes sense, looks stunning and gives the audience a warm feeling in their heart as they leave the theatre and the world of sequins and head back into a wet, miserable reality.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Strictly Ballroom the Musical, based on the award‐winning worldwide film phenomenon, is heading out to tour the UK and Ireland, starring Strictly Come Dancing’s Kevin Clifton!

With direction from dancer, choreographer, theatre director and Britain’s favourite TV Judge, Craig Revel Horwood, Strictly Ballroom the Musical will be foxtrotting around the UK from October 2022.

Strictly Ballroom
Directed by Craig Revel Horwood

New Wimbledon Theatre
Mon 7 Nov – Sat 12 Nov 2022

Milton Keynes Theatre
Mon 3 Apr – Sat 8 Apr 2023

Grand Opera House York
Mon 24 Apr – Sat 29 Apr 2023

Edinburgh Playhouse
Mon 8 May – Sat 13 May 2023

Theatre Royal Glasgow
Mon 5 Jun – Sat 10 Jun 2023

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Mon 12 Jun – Sat 17 Jun 2023

Bristol Hippodrome Theatre
Mon 10 Jul – Sat 15 Jul 2023

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