Strictly Ballroom – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse

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strictly ballroom west yorkshire playhouse

Strictly Ballroom – Review

West Yorkshire Playhouse, December 2016

by Jethro Pope

Long before Danny Mac was wowing us with his topless Samba, or Ed Balls was making us laugh with his dad-at-a-wedding-disco moves, the world of ballroom dancing was brought to a worldwide audience with Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s (Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet) debut low budget film Strictly Ballroom.

Winning critics and audiences over on its release in 1992, the film, set in the world of amateur competitive dancing in Australia, dazzled, amused and charmed people of all ages.

strictly ballroom review west yorkshire playhouse leedsAnd now, the musical stage version, currently debuting in the UK at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, seeks to do exactly the same. And strewth it certainly does!

From the minute the curtain opens to reveal a giant mirrorball rotating above, the audience is in a dizzying and delightful world of sequins, smiles and eye-popping dance moves.

“Some great and robust performances”

It tells the story of a young dancer, Scott (Sam Lips). He is desperate to break away from the constraints of Federation-rule ballroom dancing. A frumpy beginner called Fran (Gemma Sutton) longs to dance with Scott at competition level. Scott’s life is controlled by his ambitious mother Shirley, herself a trained dancer who never quite reached her potential. Similarly, Fran’s stern but protective Portuguese father aims to control her. But both come together to form an unlikely partnership, and the show’s main love story.

At the beginning of the show, Scott’s dance partner Liz (Lauren Stroud) ditches him. She can’t handle his random dance routines that are not ‘strictly’ ballroom standard. With the Pan Pacific Championships coming up, Shirley and her dance partner Les (Richard Grieve) try to pair Scott off with the fabulously talented (not to mention incredibly flexible) Tina Sparkle (Charlotte Gooch) for him to compete with. But Scott is determined to dance his own way. He finds the Portuguese-influenced dances of Fran’s family the perfect style to showcase his hidden talent.

There are some great and robust performances in the cast. Particularly from Tamsin Caroll as Shirley and Charlotte Gooch as Tina. Julius D’Silva as Barry Fife, head of the National Australian Federation of Dance, and Eve Polycarpou as Fran’s feisty grandmother play excellent supporting roles. But Gemma Sutton’s performance of Fran as a fragile yet determined girl who blossoms in to a confident dancer is outstanding. And Sam Lips gives a decent performance as Scott that’s more than outshone by his exceptional dancing skills.

“A visual feast, tinged with warmth and humour”

strictly ballroom review west yorkshire playhouse leeds

As the title implies, this is a show about dancing and my goodness it certainly delivers on those stakes. It incorporates waltzes, the quick step, foxtrot, Latin, the paso doble and one of the best male modern pieces I’ve seen since Billy Elliott. I doubt there is one foot that isn’t tapping along to the brilliant choreography. And the show cleverly incorporates songs from the movie’s soundtrack: Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ is for a romantic rooftop rehearsal and the instantly recognisable ‘Love is in the Air’, alongside other songs written especially for the musical.

This is a show with heart. It comes from Lurhmann’s own childhood experience growing up as a competitive dancer. He co-wrote the book and provides the actors with some very funny dialogue. Baz’s wife Catherine Martin designs the fabulous costumes that are as dazzling as the dancers wearing them. Catherine has Oscars for costume designing on several of Luhrmann’s films. It’s not hard to see why. God only knows how many birds were plucked to provide the amount of feathers used on some of the dresses.

Strictly Ballroom is a visual feast, tinged with warmth and humour. It is performed on a stunning set with a rotating floor, which moves the scenes quickly along as though you’re watching one long dance sequence.

Hilarious and heartwarming, it’s a wonderful, uplifting show that certainly won’t leave you feeling ‘down under’ this festive season.

Photography by Alastair Muir

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