Take one Strictly Come Dancing professional, add one Strictly Come Dancing celebrity, throw in a Strictly judge as co-choreographer and director, mix them all into a production of Strictly Ballroom and, well the crowd’s response during the bows speaks for itself. This show is a sequined, glittered, feathered, bundle of joy and fun.
It is clear from the start this is a Craig Revel Horwood piece, with his precise and pernickety nature we have grown to love so clear in his choreography and direction. Revel Horwood and Jason Gilkison are a match made in ballroom heaven. Their choreography is faultless, flawless, and is the main spectacle of this show. The way it floats from more traditional Musical Theatre performances into the ballroom dances themselves is exceptional. The duo have perfectly captured the ballroom championships, with every couple doing a unique and perfected dance that leaves your eyes unsure where to look next.
I don’t think designer Mark Walters could have found any space for another sequin or feather. The costumes are stunning and work perfectly with the dazzling choreography. Though it took my eye a few seconds to take it all in, Walters’ designs create a world all‑encompassed by the dance floor, with wooden floorboards cascading from the heavens; the perfect setting for this piece. Fitting alongside this vision, Richard G Jones’ lighting and Rory Madden and Toby Chester’s sound design build the most vivid and magical dance world.
It is understandable why Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith were cast in these roles given both of their backgrounds, though it would have been nice to see a Spanish or Latina actress play the role of Fran. Smith proves she is not just a screen actor, creating a lovely, naïve yet feisty character. It is refreshing to hear a voice that isn’t a typical MT belt, and I am sure Smith has a future on the stage. As for Clifton, no-one can fault his dancing: it is clear, though, that he is a dancer before anything else, with his acting and singing not shining as brightly as the rest of the cast. Combined, it is refreshing to see the romantic leads not being Musical Theatre graduates, though it does leave you wondering if this is partly casting for the celebrity names.
The ensemble embrace the craziness of this production, with excellent performances from Oliver Brooks, who almost depicts a Craig Revel Horwood character, and Kieran Cooper, who has the audience howling with his comic timing.
However the stand out performance in this show must be Jose Agudo. The audience is held so silent during his routine you can hear a pin drop. With a long and often dragging act one, Agudo storms the stage and grips back the audience’s attention at just the right moment. It is a shame that the nature of his role means he could not shine more; although then I’m afraid the show may became less Strictly Ballroom and more Strictly Fran’s Dad (or Rico as we later learn his name is).
A special mention must also go to the band, who are one of the tightest bands I have heard performing in London in a while.
Overall this is an enjoyable show, providing some escapism from the harsh realities we are living in. It felt refreshing to see a performance that didn’t try and shove a political message down the audience’s throats and instead allowed them to laugh, cringe and have a good old boogie at the end! Though far from a perfect production, if you want to have a really good night out, then this show is the one for you.
Book : Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Original Score & Arrangements : Elliot Wheeler
Directed by: Craig Revel Horwood
Musical Direction by: Dustin Conrad
Choreography by: Craig Revel Horwood & Jason Gilkison
Set & Costume : Mark Walters
Orchestrator & Musical Supervisor: Stuart Morley
Lighting Designer : Richard G. Jones
Sound designer : Rory Madden
Sound co-designer : Toby Chester