What is this strange concoction doing in the West End? The cry goes up for good new plays to counteract the musicals boom but this won’t help anyone’s cause. Richard Alfieri’s feeble dance lesson scenario is simply bereft of magic, even though Christopher Woods has designed a pleasant vista across the Florida beach from the well-appointed condominium. We’ve had Dirty Dancing. Here comes the sanitized, hot milk and honey version for old folks.
Or at least it seems so in the drab performance of Claire Bloom as 72 year-old Lily Harrison, a Baptist minister’s widow from South Carolina, if not in the accomplished, suavely attractive performance of Billy Zane as Michael Minetti, the dance instructor who answers her call. The play relates a not very bizarre, not very interesting – no sex, I’m afraid - lonely hearts duet in broken scenes rather like one of those “same time next year” repeat dramas.
Claire Bloom is a show business legend, but her stage credits are uneven since her surprisingly triumphant Blanche du Bois over thirty years ago. Alfieri’s play has – astonishingly – been seen all around the world without anyone ever having heard of it. Now we know why. And you can just about see how it could be a commercial goer, if Billy Zane were partnered more chemically, with someone less, well, nice, than Claire Bloom; Carol Channing, anyone, or the ghost of Ethel Merman?
Bloom’s voice, never strong on stage, struggles to be heard. She looks a little stubby, her hairstyle somewhat chaotic and her choice of costumes curiously unwise. The pink suit is bad enough in the first scene, but the hideous red three-piece outfit after the interval takes the biscuit. Billy Zane, on the other hand, looks svelte and stylish at all times, even in a Zorro-style pom-pom hat (surprise, surprise) for the tango lesson.
Each scene contains a potted resume of the history of each dance, an exchange of thudding, revelatory intimacies and a short twirl around the sofa. “When in doubt,” the old actor manager Robert Atkins used to say, “go down stage and do a little dance.” By the time Lily and Michael are on to the hitch-hike and twist routine in a “contemporary” sequence you really wish they hadn’t bothered. One loses the will to live even as we learn that Michael has left New York, where he was a chorus boy, broken-hearted and bereaved, and Lily has been diagnosed with a lymphoma.
The dances are staged by Craig Revel Horwood who fully deserves some of the low level insults he dishes out to hapless television contestants on Strictly Come Dancing each week. Arthur Allan Seidelman’s direction is neither here nor there, and one almost leaps for joy on realising that the lights will fade on this grisly pair to the sound of the Beach Boys. “Is romance a 1950s word for sex?” asks Michael. You might as well ask, “Is Six Dance Lessons any sort of euphemism for drama?”
- Michael Coveney