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27th June 2023

Review: Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, starring Kevin Clifton and Faye Brookes, is by no means exceptional – but it is strictly good fun!
Review: Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom
Kevin Clifton and Faye Brookes. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Prior to his epic Elvis biopic, Baz Luhrmann was best-known for his Red Curtain Trilogy, which was made up of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge!. The stage adaptation of the latter was my first show of 2023 – and it is, quite possibly, my favourite stage show of all, so I had high expectations for the stage adaptation of Strictly Ballroom.

Whilst Strictly Ballroom was adapted to the stage several years ago, it has only just embarked on its first ever UK tour – though it was supposed to tour the country in 2020.

Strictly Ballroom follows arrogant, rebellious young ballroom dancer, Scott Hastings. When his radical and daring dance style see him fall out of favour with Australian Federation, he must dance with beginner, Fran. Together, they find the courage to defy tradition and discover that to win, your steps don’t need to be strictly ballroom!

The musical stars Strictly professional and champion Kevin Clifton and Corrie star and Dancing on Ice runner-up Faye Brookes as the leads. I have seen both onstage previously – Clifton in War of the Worlds and Brookes in Chicago – so I knew that their performances would be solid.

Brookes is definitely the stronger actor; after all, it is her background – both onscreen and onstage, having starred in the original UK tours of Shrek and Legally Blonde. I was in awe of her Roxie Hart in Chicago; she was similarly messy in Strictly Ballroom, without the villainous streak.

Clifton is a great actor too, having played the similarly arrogant Stacee Jaxx in a previous tour of Rock of Ages.

The cast also includes Danielle Cato from So You Think You Can Dance and Stuart Rouse from Britain’s Got Talent (he reached the semifinals as a member of Beat Brothers). There were a whopping five understudies on; I do wonder if the cast changes affected the flow of the show. However, I did enjoy the sexy, striking Stylianos Thomadikis as Wayne. A Greek God, he filled the stage almost as well as he filled his pants (talk about leaving nothing to the imagination).

There was a show-stoping performance from Jose Agudo, who played Fran’s (Brookes) protective father. The final scene of Act 1 sees Scott pasodoble in front of Fran’s family, only to be put to shame by her Spanish father. The act ends with a spectacular ensemble-led pasodoble, with Act 2 offering a recreation of Scott and Fran’s iconic pasodoble. It was great seeing Clifton do the pasodoble, especially in a classic shirt, because his pasodoble with Susanna Reid is, quite possibly, my all-time favourite Strictly dance! (I’ll stop saying “pasodoble” now).

Speaking of Strictly, the production is directed and choreographed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood, so the dancing and choreography are obviously spectacular – especially the opening and closing numbers (‘Strictly Ballroom’ and ‘Love is in the Air’, respectively). Though there is one exception: on two occasions, the ensemble turn into clocks and keep saying “tick”, and it feels a little am dram. Pretentious physical theatre which will get you an A* at GCSE and A Level (I would know).

The score uses the iconic songs of the film as well as new songs written specifically for the musical, including the title song. The mixture of famous songs and new songs is a little jarring, especially because the new songs are dull and forgettable – even the opening number, which is, fortunately, saved by the gorgeous dancing. The previous UK production turned the show into a jukebox musical, and I imagine that worked so much better than this odd mix.

The design is dazzling, especially the costumes – they’re very ballroom! The stage is beautifully decorated. The set is fixed though there are bits that pull out cleverly and smoothly. It’s a very neat production. It’s nothing on the “spectacular, spectacular” Moulin Rouge! but it is well-designed, nonetheless.

The show started slightly late and, after the first number, the cast left the stage. There was an extended pause. At first, I thought it was part of the show, and the messy Fran was going to come running onstage, but the pause went on for too long for it to be part of the show. Sure enough, we were told that there were some technical difficulties. The pause, so soon after the show began (and right after such a splendid opening), killed the vibe a bit. When the show recommenced at 7:55, I had lost interest; we should have been half an hour into the show but we were still in the first scene.

I’m not sure whether the show was worth the delay. I don’t love the book; there’s some decent twists and turns but, overall, it’s predictable. But if you’re a fan of the film, you won’t take issue with this; you’ll be drowning in nostalgia.

Strictly Ballroom is by no means exceptional but it is strictly good fun!


Strictly Ballroom runs at The Lowry (Lyric Theatre) until July 1 and tours the UK until July 15.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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