KISS ME QUICKSTEP
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 10th March, 2016
Amanda Whittington’s new play is already proving popular. People flock to the New Vic because of the subject matter: a ballroom dancing competition. They come for the dancing but they stay for the humour and warmth of the characters. The story follows the fortunes of three couples. Samantha is a jaded champion, disaffected and drunk – much to the chagrin of her snake-hipped partner Lee. Nancy is a bright-eyed optimist; having met Luka, a Russian dancer online, she has her father fly him over to partner her for the competition. Meanwhile, married couple, Justin and Jodie Atherton, are facing money troubles and a run of bad luck. She is neurotic, he has a gammy knee… Most of the action takes place backstage – the compere (TV’s Alison Hammond) is a disembodied voice, divine intervention interrupting the rows and rehearsals.
In the rehearsal scenes, we glimpse the anatomy of the dances – this is thrilling in itself – but when the dance numbers come they are truly uplifting. It’s so much more impressive than watching it on the telly! Beverley Edmunds’s choreography is spot on, and it’s also dramatised to fit the action – There’s a slow-motion sequence that shows in an expressionistic way how Samantha is alienated by the whole shebang. The cast is augmented by a talented troupe from the local community, adding to the scale of the enterprise. The Blackpool ballroom is economically evoked by Dawn Allsop’s design and Daniella Beattie’s versatile lighting.
Amy Barnes keeps Samantha together, through her drunken denials to her liberation, bringing warmth to what could be a diva of a role. Ed White incorporates Lee’s drive and determination, and is a lovely mover. Hannah Edwards, a New Vic favourite, brings sweetness to Nancy and also the guts to stand up at last to her overbearing, self-appointed coach of a father (Jack Lord, both affable and menacing). Also returning to the New Vic is Isaac Stanmore (formerly Robin Hood and Dracula here!) as the Russian dancer and rent-a-Gleb Luka, thrilled to be in Blackpool – for more reasons than one, it turns out. Stanmore is an engaging presence – technically superb in the dancing (they all are, it has to be said) and exuding both strength and vulnerability – We want him to succeed. Abigail Moore’s Jodie is tightly wound (and very funny) but as soon as the compere calls her to the dance floor she becomes the consummate performer, supported perfectly by Matt Crosby as husband Justin. Their big dance number brings the house down and this is because we are invested in them as characters.
It’s a conventional play, deftly handled by resident director Theresa Heskins, who puts the humanity of the characters in the spotlight and allows the script’s metaphors and meaning to work on the audience almost subliminally. Dance = life, and it’s what you bring to the floor that counts.