Review: Strictly Ballroom (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

This musical version of Baz Luhrman’s film is directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie

With the famous television show, whose name was inspired by the original 1992 film, presently at the height of its powers, the public are no doubt hard wired for this Christmas dance extravaganza in Leeds.

Strictly Ballroom is about dancing of course, but Baz Luhrmann's film gave us more than that; even with its sugary undercurrent it touched on the complex relationships parents share with children and the conflict that arises from a desire to push boundaries. It's also a flagrant love story.

From the outset, a young and talented dancer, Scott, rails against the system that governs the amateur Ballroom Dancing Association in Australia, headed by President Barry Fife, who can't fail to suggest a timely resemblance to the current President-elect of the USA.

Scott's new dance steps go against the 'strict' rules and his overbearing mother Shirley just wants him to win competitions. Scott then aligns with Fran, a beginner dancer and against the tide they begin to nurture each other until they eventually overthrow Fife.

The piece is undoubtedly high on schmaltz and camp; the story has the Hollywood formula underpinning it and whilst this didn't hold the film back, the high emotional points are not as emphatic or profound on stage, nor the humour as biting.

Sam Lips and Gemma Sutton as Scott and Fran harmonise sublimely on "Time After Time" and elicit emotion in their duet "Beautiful Surprise", as does Stephen Matthews playing Scott's understated father. Julius D'Silva as Fife rouses laughs with "Dance To Win", but elsewhere the songs don't always engage long enough, and the singers don't get the chance to soar like they clearly could.

It is undoubtedly in Drew McOnie's choreography and the ability of this superb cast that the show's pleasures lie. The athleticism on show is at times mesmerising and the end of the first half is pure electricity as Fran's relations Rico and Abuela teach Scott to Paso Doble, reaffirming his desire to search for differences in his dancing.

There are some inspired lighting touches from Tim Lutkin and Hugh Vanstone, including a highly effective silhouette effect during "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps". 'They've given it a lovely shine', Shirley quips, which sums the show up. From Catherine Martin's dazzling eighties costumes, to the retro neon signage employed on Soutra Gilmour's ever evolving, ever changing sets, this production is not lacking luminosity.

Perhaps some flaws then, but this production will entertain the Yorkshire folk this Christmas with its pizzazz and spectacular dance sequences.

Strictly Ballroom runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 21 January 2017.

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