With Ballroom Blitz we are in familiar territory. The story of two young ballroom dancers who, despite the rundown nature of their dance school, challenge the finest and eventually triumph (or finish a brave second – I won’t spoil the ending) at a major competition in Blackpool calls to mind several Hull Truck productions (from Up ‘n’ Under onwards) and other plays such as Stepping Out which feature ordinary folk excelling at what they’re supposed to be no good at! And the staging of one last glory night at the threatened dance school is a motif last seen by me at Scarborough in Geordie Sinatra.
So what makes Ballroom Blitz such a fresh and (ultimately) involving piece of theatre? A theatre well-filled with a responsive audience helps, of course, but the audience has plenty of reasons to be responsive. The plot may be predictable, but Dave Windass’ writing is not. Occasional belly-laughs are balanced by subtler humour and the play contains some nicely poetic moments and even some instructional material on ballroom dancing! Both Windass and director Conrad Nelson take ballroom dancing very seriously: a troupe of 15 local amateurs supplied by the A. Ward School of Dance and headed by Lewis Knaggs offers every level from grotesquely comic beginner to accomplished champion, whilst Dawn Allsopp’s set offers a smart dance floor along with tatty trimmings.
Nelson’s direction is fluid, avoiding all sign-posting of comic scene coming up, particularly at ease with economical switching of characters by a first-class cast of four. Susan Twist is at the heart of the action as Sharon, the dance school owner faced by disaster, always convincing in what is the most conventional of the main characters, the brave independent woman facing disaster with a heart of gold and a tongue of acid. Benjamin O’Mahony manages a remarkable double for most of the first half: Paul, the dance hall tyro who never says a word, and the crooked owner of the property who never stops haranguing Sharon in his own would-be business-ese. When Paul emerges as a person, the relationship with Sharon’s daughter Tammy (Catherine Kinsella) is real and moving. Kinsella is excellent as ever as the initially brattish and demanding daughter and she and O’Mahony star in the dance sequences. And there is an outstanding performance from Alexander Delamere, in two three-dimensional roles, Paul’s dad Trev and Sharon’s former dance partner Bernie, plus any number of comedy cameos. In particular the warmly humorous Trev, so proud of his son that he never pauses his praise long enough for the lad to say a word, is a joy throughout.