Faltering Steps

By Richard Barber

To describe the world of ballroom dancing as a bit camp is rather like saying that the shard is quite tall. But there is such a thing as overkill and Baz Luhrmann's reworking of his 1992 hit film Strictly Ballroom isn’t so much over the top as down the other side. Every acid-coloured costume (designed by Baz’s wife, Catherine Martin) isn’t decorated with sequins and sparkle; they’re drenched in them. two-dimensional characters, with a small clutch of honourable exceptions, have all the depth of the average puddle so that we’re presented with a cavalcade of cartoon characters.

The story, you’ll remember, is a simple one. snake-hipped Scott Hastings has the dancing chops to win the prestigious Pan- Pacific championships, but he’s an iconoclast, forever throwing in wayward, some would say illegal, dance steps, much to the fury of concert organiser Barry Fife (Gerard Horan, channelling Barry Humphries’ Les Patterson) and Scott's ambitious dance partner.

Step shyly forward frumpy Fran, complete with oversized specs and raging acne. Well, we know how this one pans out as she morphs before our very eyes from ugly duckling to graceful swan. In the hands of Zizi Strallen, yet another of Bonnie Langford's seemingly endless streams of talented nieces, this is far and away the most nuanced performance of the night (not all that hard in the circumstances). Ms Strallen can dance, act and sing when required. We’ll be seeing much more of her.

Handsome Jonny Labey, erstwhile murdered gay boyfriend of Ben Mitchell in EastEnders, certainly looks the part with his chiselled cheekbones and swivel hips. unfortunately, and it really isn’t their fault, he’s saddled with parents – she’s a raging virago, he’s a real weed with a sad secret – played to the hilt by Anna Francolini and Stephen Matthews. I blame director Drew Mconie, also responsible for the whip-smart choreography, who simply should have told them to dial it down a bit. and then there’s the slightly creepy presence of bandleader Wally strand, who acts as a sort of mix of Greek chorus and narrator, prowling the overcrowded stage singing a succession of 80s hits. He’s played by a somewhat self- regarding Will Young, complete with door-to-door salesman dodgy moustache.

the best scene of the evening closes the first half, when Fran’s father, Rico (Fernando Mira), executes a spine-tingling pasodoble, rather undercutting the main thrust of the story, which is that unorthodox dance steps are somehow preferable to drill and discipline. sadly, elsewhere, the movie’s charm and sweetness have been sacrificed on the altar of low camp.

At the Piccadilly Theatre, London W1 until 21 July: 0844-871 7630, www.strictlyballroomthemusical.com