I’ve watched Strictly Come Dancing since I was a child. My parents love it – especially my dad. Now, I often call my dad “uncultured” and a “philistine”, but I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day!
I’d usually just watch bits when it was on, but I caught a great deal of it last year. This was because lockdown left us with little else to do other than watch television on a Saturday night.
When the series ended, I was one of many people who expressed gratitude to Strictly on social media for providing us with so much heart-warming joy each week during such a difficult time.
My personal favourite couple last season was journalist Ranvir Singh and professional dancer Giovanni Pernice. They made a beautiful, regal pair, and I was disappointed that they did not make the final – as were lots of people on social media, but alas, it is what it is…
I was delighted to hear, however, that Giovanni was going on not one but two tours! He isn’t taking part in the Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals Tour, instead, he’s going on a solo tour (This is Me) and is currently on tour with Strictly legend (and now judge) Anton Du Beke (Him & Me). I like how the two titles complement each other; I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it’s cute, nonetheless.
Theatre in the Time of Covid
In each review, I’ll be discussing how the theatre/venue handled the Covid restrictions because I know that lots of people are a little wary – even my own writers.
Just like last time, our temperatures were checked before we entered the building. Our tickets, too, were checked outside. Whilst the Lowry has a few bars, they were all shut. Instead, drinks could be purchased outdoors – just before heading into the theatre. The drink menu was limited but good enough.
Having guests queue outdoors is understandable, but it was raining when we arrived. The Lowry might consider putting up the cover of some kind, for if we don’t catch Covid, we might catch a cold.
As is too often the case with the Lowry, there was confusion over the tickets. I love the Lowry, and I understand that they have just reopened after a long time of being shut, but this problem precedes the pandemic.
Madison and I entered the auditorium to see two women sat in our seats – and they had the same seat numbers on their tickets. Other people seemed to be having the same problem, including a group of women, one of whom was in a wheelchair and so needed an accessible seat.
This problem might have arisen because the show was supposed to be going ahead without social distancing. The delaying of restrictions meant that the show had to have a socially distanced audience, so many guests have to wait until next year to see the show.
Granted, this must have been stressful for the Lowry to sort out, and to the credit of the staff, they were trying their best to sort out these problems. They were probably even more stressed than we were. It’s important to acknowledge that accidents and mistakes happen – hopefully, the Lowry learns from this one.
Madison and I were given new seats – which were actually better than the original ones. We also realised that we were sat in the exact same seats as last time – strange, no? It was just meant to be, I guess.
Keep Dancing (and Singing)
I knew that this show was going to be good. I hadn’t the slightest idea what to expect, but I knew it was going to be good!
Whilst the show is called Him & Me, there was a whole company of incredible dancers, many of whom had been trained in musical theatre. After all, the show was not merely a night of dance but also music. Even Anton and Giovanni, themselves, treated us to some songs!
Giovanni gave a memorable performance of the Italian protest folk song ‘Bella ciao’. It was fierce and feisty and fiery and passionate and vibrant and succulent and I’ll stop…
The show started off with a bright, colourful number that was let down by a problem with the sound. It was hard to hear what everybody was saying – especially Giovanni, with his thick Italian accent (as sexy as it is). The sound problems persisted but improved. I believe they were fixed during the interval.
As somebody who goes to a lot of shows knows, I know that these things happen – the sound team are only human. I felt bad for the singers, who were belting their voices out only to be let down by technology.
The show had several different scenes/settings; it was like watching snippets of (very) different musicals in a gala celebrating musical theatre.
It was also like watching a whole season of Doctor Who in a couple of hours: we got taken on a journey throughout history, visiting wildly different places in no corresponding order.
Whilst the different “locations” felt a little random, that was part of the appeal: this show is not taking itself too seriously; it’s all about giving audiences a night of fun, not a history lesson.
As was the case with Opera North’s A Night at the Opera, the show was broken up with speech: Anton, Giovanni and a few members of the company would talk to the audience, introduce the next number, etc. This helped bring our excitement back down; it would have been a little too intense if the numbers were not broken up a little.
At one point, Giovanni gave a special shout-out to Ranvir Singh, which was touching, and he joked about flattering Anton so that he scores him well next season.
Towards the end of the show, the guys brought out the show’s Creative Director and Choreographer, Alan Burkitt. Burkitt was having to cover for a dancer who had recently injured himself; it was lovely for the guys to give him credit for stepping up last minute.
I thought I recognised Burkitt, and after looking in the souvenir brochure, I realised that he starred in Curtains, which I reviewed in 2019.
Anton had a long monologue, but the audience seemed like they would have been okay with him talking all night. He was warm, welcoming and hilarious. The audience loved listening to him complain about always being paired with that celebrity – you know, the frumpy woman who can’t dance to save her life.
Anton then told us he was bringing on one of his past partners – which turned out to be a cut-out of Anne Widdecombe DSG PC – on wheels!
Whilst many people detest Widdecombe’s politics, she was fantastic on Strictly. Not a fantastic dancer, no, but so bad that she was incredible to watch – the country kept voting for her so that we’d be treated to another hilarious, embarrassing performance!
Anton cemented himself as a Great British hero for having to put up with her each week. He’s been paired with many a terrible dancer since, so it’s only right that he’s been rewarded with a seat at the judges’ table. He took great delight in the fact that now somebody else will have to dance with that celebrity!
Anton and Giovanni were hilarious hosts; they’re more than just good dancers. (As Giovanni joked, he’s a triple-threat: good-looking, a good dancer and a good singer!).
The audience loved it when Anton and Giovanni addressed us directly and involved us in the action. For instance, prior to his performance of ‘Bella ciao’, Giovanni asked the audience to sing the chorus with him.
The show’s leading lady was the captivating Michelle Andrews. Her powerhouse vocals stole the show at certain points. I can totally see her playing Velma Kelly in Chicago or Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Granted, Sally is not supposed to be a good singer – ech-hum, Liza Minelli – but Andrews is also an actress, so I’m sure she is capable of good bad singing!
I liked that Anton and Giovanni were not present in some of the numbers. Whilst they are the stars of the show, they let their ensemble shine – which gave them time for a little rest in between their energetic numbers.
One of my favourite numbers was the smouldering Spanish number. I also loved the early 20th century showgirl numbers – especially when lead by the aforementioned Michelle Andrews. I must also give a brief mention to the brief tap dancing scene, which featured three female dancers smiling boldly at the front of the stage. It was brief but memorable.
I have a tendency to roll my eyes at war imagery, which can feel a little cheap and chauvinistic. It often serves to garner mandatory praise from audiences. Him & Me‘s WWII imagery, however, was fantastic: it was just another setting/theme that was built upon, not a ploy to force the audience into submission – for we were already submitting ourselves to Anton and Giovanni!
I loved the forties-style singing: there was a group of men and a group of women who brilliantly embodied this unique styling. The striking vocals produced a strange kind of nostalgia, for nobody really wishes they were alive during the Second World War, but this snapshot of singing and dancing transports the listener towards its unique resonance.
I could go on and on (especially about Giovanni), but I don’t want to spoil the show any further. In case it isn’t obvious, my friend, Madison, and I absolutely loved it and strongly recommend that you watch it if you get the chance.
Him & Me tours the country until Sunday 25th 2021 and then tours again in 2022, from Saturday 12th June until Friday 22nd July. It will be back at the Lowry, Salford for a matinee and an evening show on Sunday 26th June. All future shows will not have a socially distanced audience.