Strictly Ballroom is the West End’s latest offering, based on Baz Lurhmann’s movie of the same name. Scott Hastings has grown up in the ballroom dance world however due to his desire to dance his own steps rather than federation steps he finds himself without a partner, just before the finals. Fran, a beginner convinces Scott to dance his own steps with her but in doing so they must not only find the courage to defy the federations expectations but their own families.
Strictly Ballroom is a show which clearly goes by the mantra- more is more. The costumes are huge and not an area is left not covered with sequins, hair is high, glitter balls rule the day, the tans are orange and the routines outrageous, but this is perfect for this show. The show is cheesy but it knows it and is embraced wholeheartedly. The cheese factor however doesn’t mean that there aren’t tender moments or characters you care about. The dance sequence between Scott and Fran which shows their relationship developing along with Fran’s skills conveys this perfectly with barely a word uttered between the characters.
The choreography by Drew McOnie is a highlight of Strictly Ballroom and the contrast between the cheesy ballroom dances and how Fran and Scott dance together is well delivered. The mark is set right from the opening number where the dancers open the show with a bang performing impressive partner work. I particularly enjoyed many of the routines performed by Charlotte Gooch as Tina Sparkle who lives up to her name in dazzling, show stopping routines. Contrasting to this was Fernando Mira as Rico, Fran’s father, with an authentic flamenco routine causing spontaneous applause.
Scott Hastings and Fran are played by Jonny Laby and Zizi Strallen who have tough roles to play. The audience need to believe that Scott could genuinely win the finals and that Fran develops from a clumsy beginner to a beautiful dancer but they pull off these roles with apparent ease. I particularly enjoyed Strallen’s transformation from the awkward beginner to the confident dancer.
It is not just the dancers however that deserve a mention and Richard Greve as Les Kendall, Gerard Horan as Barry Fife and Anna Francoini as Shirley Hastings all bring tons of personality to the stage and deliver their brand of over the top comedy brilliantly.
The show features chart classics such as Love is In The Air, Dancing With Myself and Sway, most of them sung by ‘Band leader’ Wally Strand, played by Will Young. At times I would have liked to have seen other members of the cast given an opportunity to sing certain numbers in order to help convey their particular story as some of the numbers were thrown away and felt like they were there just to be used a music to dance to rather than to develop the story. Whilst Will Young has a voice well suited to these pop numbers, through no fault of his own he often felt without purpose on stage and a bit lost as a result.
I have already mentioned the costumes in passing but praise must be heaped upon Catherine Martin, the costume designer. The ballroom attire is outrageous and range from huge florescent swirling dresses to barely there bras. Fran’s style is the complete antithesis of this with her flamenco style dress demonstrating this perfectly in the finale.
This is a show of contrast but with stunning choreography and a feeling that makes you want to embrace the cheese it is one that leaves you grinning and feeling like you need to bathe in glitter! It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and the West End is all the better for it!