Piccadilly Theatre Booking to 20 October
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Love is in the air at the Piccadilly Theatre, as the cutthroat world of amateur dance sport has arrived in a whirlwind of frills, fake tans and sequins – so many sequins!
Baz Luhrmann’s iconic and much-loved film is a hard act to follow, but this gloriously camp production is an explosion of exuberance and joy. With Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s book ensuring that the distinctive Aussie humour and cattiness survives, director Drew McOnie’s vision remains true to the film, with added theatrical flair.
The addition of Wally Strand as the show’s compere and narrator roots the production firmly on the stage, with Will Young a natural at this kind of gig after his fantastic Emcee in Cabaret. The plot is unchanged – Scott Hastings’ rebellion just weeks before the Pan Pacific dance competition sends tremors through the world of ballroom dancing, with Federation bigwig Barry Fife incandescent at the idea of a dancer introducing new steps. As Scott loses his partner, he begins to dance with Fran, a beginner at his dance school who encourages him to dance his own steps. But Barry Fife will go to any lengths of backstabbing and skulduggery to keep to the Federation’s mantra of tradition and repetition. The theme of rebellion and anti-authoritarianism is much more overt in this show, with some fantastic, and funny, dance sequences to highlight the gulf between the dancers and the Federation.
McOnie’s choreography is stunning, from the cheesy and ridiculously OTT ballroom sequences to the freedom dances. My only gripe is that they need a much bigger stage – the production does well in the tight space available, but it would be fantastic to see the company able to sweep around the dancefloor. Exactly like the film, the Spanish dancing in Fran’s yard heightens the emotion and builds into a high energy and uplifting crescendo to Habanera. Fernando Miras is perfection as Fran’s dad – his dancing is magnificent and mesmerising.
Will Young, sashays around the stage full of camp mannerisms and playing to the audience for all he’s worth. He takes on all the iconic songs from the film, with his rendition of Time After Time simply breath-taking. He sings all the emotions the characters cannot express, making the moments when he gently touches characters during Love Is In The Air, giving them a voice to finally sing their love, even more moving. Zizzi Strallen continues her family’s takeover of the British stage with style. She has a great instinct for physical comedy, and her transformation during the film is handled subtly. Jonny Labey impresses as Scott, but the show is stolen by Anna Francolini as Scott’s mum, Shirley. Her facial and vocal reactions to stress are hysterical, and she is matched by Stephen Matthews as Scott’s dad Doug – nailing the pathos and getting huge laughs. The pivotal scene at the Pan Pacific is staged beautifully, with Doug’s contribution guaranteed to send a shiver through the audience.
If this show doesn’t get your feet tapping, then nothing will. Jam-packed with fabulous tunes, Strictly Ballroom is bold, brash and brassy with a heart of gold that beats to an irresistible rhythm.