Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, Bristol Hippodrome

IF you thought politics was the most cut-throat game in town, you might have second thoughts, after watching this tale of competitive dancing in Australia. The running out of Jonny Bairstow in the recent Ashes Test match pales into insignificance compared to the underhand dirty tricks that the dancers indulge in to come out top dog in this story.

The problems facing the independent-minded and innovative young dancer Scott Hastings (Kevin Clifton) as he challenges the traditional ideas of dance in the late 1960s and the authority of Barry Fife (Gary Davis), the mealy-mouthed president of the dance federation, at first look insurmountable.

He is hindered rather than helped by his traditional dance-loving mother, Shirley, a fine portrait by Nikki Belsher of a parent trying to live their lives and make up for lost opportunities, through their children. As she showed in Happy Feet, Shirley can still make a good fist of putting over a number, if, it like this, it comes from a period 30 years before.

Quinn Patrick’s Les Kendall, owner of the dance studio, forever touching his forelock to the Dance Federation, is also a hindrance rather than help to Scott’s ambitions.

But as the saying, love goes conquers all, and with the aid and support of Faye Brooks’ beautifully portrayed Fran, he makes going from uncertain novice dancer and insecure person to polished top quality dancer, singer and loving companion look the simplest of tasks. More help comes from Scott’s apparently ineffectual father Doug, a lovely Pagliacci figure in the hands of Mark Sangster, Jose Audo’s Rico, who shows Scott just how a Paso Doble should be danced and Karen Mann’s Abuela, who takes the evening’s vocal honours, as she demonstrates that all great things which involve music must come from the heart not just the head.

All that may sound a little serious and thoughtful, but as director and co-choreographer Craig Revel Horwood (dancer and director Jason Gilkison is his partner) says in his introduction, above all else this show is about dancing – and, with high class principals backed by an outstanding ensemble, this is a show to please any dance enthusiast.

Set against and dressed in Mark Walters’ unashamed glitzy and bling sets and costumes, not only does this ensemble capture the mood and period of the choreography, but – sometimes wearing outrageous wigs – they create a raft of entertaining characters to match the setting.

Bizet, popular songs from the 1930s and 40s and up to date numbers were all the same to this company who took no prisoners, showing tremendous dancing skills as they left their audience as breathless with excitement as they themselves must have been after such exertions!



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