I’ve loved Baz Luhrmann for a very long time. He makes the magical possible because he made Moulin Rouge. That’s how to spend a budget and give the cinema-goer value for money.
Now West Yorkshire Playhouse is staging the musical production of Strictly Ballroom And, like the film, this version is well worth the price of a ticket, as well as your train fare to Leeds or whatever else you care to shell out on.
I don’t watch TV’s Strictly. As it’s one of my mum’s favourite shows, that is usually a guarantee I won’t like it, not just because I know it will have an opposite message to the film but because I am, and always have been, my mum’s contrary teenage brat. We rebel, just like Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom. I’m still doing it at 45 because I’m not happy about how the world works and because I’m always right.
Strictly Ballroom is the story of triumph over oppression. That’s not me just deciding that; Luhrmann arrived at the story when exploring the notion at NIDA (Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art) of universal myth. Luhrmann, who was a competitive ballroom dancer throughout his childhood, was devising work with other students around myths of the hero’s journey and the self-revelation myth of the ugly duckling. Sound complicated? It’s not really, as Strictly Ballroom neatly demonstrates.
My friend tells me there is the Strictly curse where the celebrities fall in love with their partners on the show. Basically that’s the plot to Strictly Ballroom. Scott Hastings (Sam Lips) isn’t dancing like he’s supposed to but beginner Fran (and only Fran) is willing to dance with him on his terms. She sees the potential in him, and gradually he sees how amazing Fran (played by Gemma Sutton) is. That’s what makes it the achievable dream for us all – the kind, nice girl gets the guy.
The audience had a (glitter) ball. We dived into a tin of Quality Street for a couple of hours and we had fun. But there are some weighty issues being addressed too, about race and relationships and greed. But when that glitter ball shines across the whole audience, that’s what makes it for us, we are wanted. This is a relationship and one that is so apparent when you watch musicals; the audience and the performers form a bond.
The first half was a bit too long for me, though. I have a weak bladder so as much as I was enjoying it, the last ten minutes is me guessing when it will end. I also felt that the kids could have been used all the way through, because when they got finally got their moment in the spotlight, it didn’t really seem like they had earned their place in the story. And with brilliant performances from all, that was a shame.
Nevertheless, this show was a great experience from all angles (thank you director and choreographer Drew McOnie). We felt like we were the audience gunning for Scott from the very beginning, and Charlotte Gooch as Tina Sparkle was a singing, dancing vajazzle.
When Doug Hastings is in the audience watching his son dance, it is so moving. Stephen Matthews is the perfect Doug. It’s Doug’s story really, I think. In my youth, I’m pretty sure I dressed Stephen in Oliver in the West End, and I can tell you that not only is he a really great actor, he’s a lovely lad. Hiya Stephen, I write musicals now.
Photos by Alastair Muir
Strictly Ballroom is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until January 21, 2017. For more information, click here.