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December 21, 2016

Community Correspondent: Strictly Ballroom – West Yorkshire Playhouse

The excitement, if not Love, was palpably in the air on Tuesday night for the UK premiere of Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Based on the 1992 movie of the same name which, as some of us didn’t realise, was based on a short play also written by Baz Luhrman some 30 years ago.

We were promised sequins, glitter and spectacle, which we got in spades, the dance routines were impressive and every inch a Come Dancing pastiche. The lead characters were pleasant enough and the villains were villainous, oh yes they were. There was audience participation and good triumphed over evil. Who says the West Yorkshire Playhouse don’t do panto?

There were the 1980’s songs that those who have seen the film will remember, still being used to great effect here; but I have to say the original numbers were less successful musically but served to move the story along. The story, is that of the cut throat world of Competition Dance in 1980’s Australia; a world in stark contrast to the ordinary lives of the competitors but also a world of strict rules and boundaries.  

There is no deviation from the standard steps, things are kept Strictly Ballroom and there are no exceptions. Enter young Scott Hastings, a dancer with dreams of using his own steps, a dream which recalls a dark family secret, a dream which awakens the drive and ambition of shy beginner Fran: Things are about to get complicated.

The stifling control of Barry Fife and the Australian Dancing Federation seems all powerful, disqualification and disgrace seem inevitable. Can Scott use his own steps and still win the Pan Pacific Championships? Will good triumph over evil? Will creative expression come through over rigid rules? Are we really in any doubt? With a little help from a community of Spanish Flamenco dancers, determination, fire and a last minute surprise transformation of a family member, Scott may yet find his dream.

The show is definitely a feel good triumph and a treat for the eye, there are some lovely performances, but what was missing was the grit of the movie; the passion for the dance and the spectacle is born from the drudge and misery of their ordinary lives. The Hastings family is poor, their lives are hard, their accents are grating and their escape into sequins and feathers absolute. This aching juxtaposition is missing from the Musical and the musical is, I feel, the poorer for it.

That said, so much of the lovely dialogue, the quirky humour and of course the wonderful dance routines remain. I would recommend you go, enjoy, clap, dance (on the stage if you can get there) but also watch the DVD and dream of what could have been.

By Sara Allkins