Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Kiss Me Quickstep” – which is at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle Under Lyme until Saturday 19th March
How to win over an audience : Lesson 1.
Whenever doing a play about dancing, always ensure the cast dance to the local footballing anthem. And so it is that the stage of the New Vic is filled with performers doing the Viennese Waltz to the Stoke City fans favourite – ‘Delilah’.
Mind you, by then the audience was already won.
“Kiss Me Quickstep” couldn’t be more of a crowd pleaser if it tried. Amanda Whittington has clearly done her homework at the British Amateur Dance Championship Finals – held annually at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. And equally clearly, there’s an abundance of material. As a triumphant, third-placed, contestant wryly comments, “More couples split up at Blackpool than at Christmas.” And he and his wife are doing their best…to split up.
Of Amanda’s three leading ballroom couples; one is heading for divorce, one is heading for bed, and the other for a nervous breakdown. In each case, the men lead …. but the women drive. All take their troubles with them onto the floor.
It’s a beautifully packaged play. The emotional content may be not that unfamiliar to students of Soaps….but the wrapping is superb.
Of couple number 60, local lass Nancy is forlornly falling for her Russian partner. Couple 22, from Stoke, spend so much time dancing they can’t pay their mortgage; and the tall, glamorous Cheshire blonde in couple number 12 is topping up her isotonic drinks bottle with something interesting. Her illusion of confidence falls away in a classic Theresa Heskins directorial moment – which does ‘live’ on stage what Hollywood directors require zillions of dollars of special effects to achieve.
The cast is hugely committed…none more so than the two dozen, young, expertly drilled members of the local Academy for Theatre Arts who – in the mass competition scenes – fill the floor with excitement, energy and grace. They really are most impressive.
But – to my untutored eye, (and, no, I don’t watch “Strictly”) – choreographer Beverly Edmunds has taken her six lead actors several steps towards dancing heaven. And they do look terrific in their camp costumes. The ladies are so heavily made up they must have employed a plasterer and the man never have a hair out of place.
Matt Crosby’s enormously likable, honest, portrayal of a star struck Burslem boy pretty much steals the show. He and his wining wife (played very observantly by a grumpy, taciturn Abigail Moore) are bent on ‘catastrophising’ everything; yet they embody the whole, charming, message of the show. Once you start competitive dancing, it’s so addictive, even having a gammy leg and no bed for the night won’t stop you. Their final dance floor routine won its own ovation.
Isaac Stanmore is beautifully perky as the exiled Russian who can’t dance at home because it’s too bourgeois – and the ever-wonderful Hannah Edwards is feisty and defiant in the face of her controlling father (Jack Lord) who’s determined she should be the super star he wasn’t.
Meanwhile, the apparently cool, calm and sophisticated Amy Barnes and Ed White (playing Samantha and Lee – from the nice side of Chester) merely have to trundle their suitcases across the stage to raise a laugh.
The play is surprisingly slow to build. Amanda Whittington employs similar stage strategy to Alan Ayckbourn in setting up her situations – and takes twenty minutes to do what Mr Ayckbourn might do in ten. But it is well worth sticking with…and you can’t help but admire the results.
‘Kiss Me Quickstep’ is a co-production with the Oldham Coliseum – which is where it goes next. And it may need a little footballing modification. I gather the most commonly heard song on the terraces of Oldham Athletic is “I’d rather be a bastard than a Yorkshireman”.
Which could be tricky to waltz to….
Photo ; Andrew Bilington
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