Review: Strictly Ballroom at The Theatre Royal Nottingham

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The arrival of Strictly Ballroom at The Theatre Royal has been eagerly awaited.

Originally scheduled for the pandemic era, like many shows, it had been delayed.  So was it worth the wait?

Where do I begin? If you’re going along hoping for a true film to stage copy, you won’t find it.

The 1992 Australian romantic comedy film directed and co-written by Baz Luhrmann was his feature directorial debut, and the first in his “Red Curtain Trilogy” of theatre-motif-related films; it was followed by 1996’s Romeo + Juliet and 2001’s Moulin Rouge.

In a similar vein to Dirty Dancing, which was released in 1987, the plot sees a top ballroom dancer pair with a plain, beginner level local girl when his maverick style earns him the disdain of his more conventionally-minded colleagues, resulting in a predictable but feel good ending. 

The musical version does have this same central plot, but when it comes to turning the film into a musical, the problem they presumably had was that despite it being a film about dance, unlike Dirty Dancing, it didn’t have the legendary soundtrack to fall back on, and so it’s been padded out with forgettable songs from the other of the original films characters, with the odd good solo and duet for the main characters.  Thankfully ‘Love is in the Air’ and ‘Time After Time’ have survived.

What was originally a one hour 30 film has been dragged out to around two hours ten, the first act alone being a lengthy one hour twenty. Despite honouring the original scene of lead character Scott Hastings opening the show, it then launches into a large cast number, with the music at times drowning out the dialogue and vocals.

It’s surprising to see when looking at the writers of the songs that Baz Luhrmann is credited, yes, we know he’s quirky (remember Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) , but the musical seems to have lost the Luhrmann contemporariness, the darkness, his auteur that was evident in the recent Elvis film. What’s not surprising when viewing this production is the involvement of Craig Revel Horwood. As Director and co-choreographer it’s as though the heart of Luhrmann has been ripped out and replaced with that of Revel Horwood.

The production has been given a Strictly Come Dancing makeover. Maybe that’s what audiences want and I’m pining for something less commercially friendly.  But you do feel almost like you’re watching two productions.  The original plot, with an almost panto like subplot going on around it with silly humour and bad wigs ( the character Wayne even appears to look like a Neil Jones impersonation) 

HOWEVER, the audience gave a standing ovation.  What you can’t fault is the effort put in by the cast.  This production should be the perfect vehicle for Kevin Clifton (Scott Hastings), and in many ways it is.  He gets to show his talents in many dance styles throughout, and once again proves that he can sing and act too, giving his performance one hundred percent.  Likewise Faye Brookes (Fran) is a fantastic all rounder.  Both are brilliant in their roles as lead characters and have chemistry.  

It’s a talented cast, but for me it’s just missing something. Would I go and see it again? Probably not.  But if you’re a fan of dance you’ll love it.

Go see for yourself and make your own mind up. Strictly Ballroom runs at The Theatre Royal Nottingham until 24th June.  Book Here

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