PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Strictly Ballroom has its press night on the 24th of April.
His tendency to make up his own moves during competitions make him unlikely to win the championship, so he has difficulty hanging on to a partner until newbie Fran (Zizi Strallen; part of the Z-series of Strallens that also includes Zelda, Zorba and Zuul) asks him to give her a chance.
The cast also includes Anna Francolini as Scott’s chain-smoking, pushy mother, Stephen Matthews as his put-upon father (was the character… quite so sex-offendery in the film?) and Eve Polycarpou as Fran’s Abuela, which at this point I think McOnie might actually think is her name. (Not that Polycarpou’s entirely typecast, she played a Greek Yaya in Sunset at the Villa Thalia a couple of years ago. Yaya is Greek for Abuela.) Technically a jukebox musical, the show features medleys of over 40 hit songs, almost all sung by Will Young as emcee Wally Strand.
In fact the show doesn’t feel like a musical at all, as the music is entirely there to provide backing to the story and its dance sequences, rather than actually feeling integrated into them. And while a couple of songs most associated with the film – notably “Love Is In The Air” – get reprised, none get sung in full. I joked before going in that in order to fit that many songs in we’d only get a couple of lines of each, but that didn’t turn out to be far off.
A bit of high camp should be right up my street but I think a few things conspired to make this leave me surprisingly cold: Labey is a bit of a charmless lead so despite good work going on around him, particularly with Strallen selling awkward enthusiasm, it’s hard to get invested in the central characters. Soutra Gilmour’s set puts the band onstage, pushing most of the action downstage to where it’s very hard to see from the Grand Circle. And ultimately the production’s target audience is fans of the original film, which by all accounts it seems to recreate quite faithfully. I’m afraid it didn’t make a new fan in me, but for those already hooked this is clearly going to be a hot ticket.
Strictly Ballroom by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce is booking until the 21st of July at the Picadilly Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Johan Persson.