Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 4th September, 2018
I have vague memories of the film from 1983, with its story of a lady welder who dances in a nightclub and dreams of attending a posh dance academy. The theme song, of course (and the video that went with it) are burned into the popular consciousness. Here, original screenplay writer Tom Hedley adapts the piece for the stage, with the addition of original songs by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth. Also included are key songs from the film (I Love Rock and Roll, Maniac, Gloria…) which, if I’m honest, knock the new material into a cocked hat.
Strictly’s Joanne Clifton leads the energetic company as Alex, dancing up a storm and taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase her other talents, acting and singing – the latter being rather good indeed. Love interest comes in the form of a1’s Ben Adams as the boss’s pretty-boy son, Nick. While Clifton’s vocals lean more toward musical theatre, Adams’s sweet and strong pop stylings work well in their duets.
Among the hard-working cast, stand-outs include Sia Dauda as Kiki, with big hair and a voice to match (it’s a shame she’s not put to use more) and Carol Ball as Alex’s mentor and benefactor, Hannah. Matt Concannon makes an impression as the ostensible villain of the piece, sleazy club proprietor, CC, while Hollie-Ann Lowe has her moments as feisty-but-tragic Gloria.
The cast is great, the staging of the musical numbers with choreography by Matt Cole is fine, but it’s the dramatic scenes that require attention. In some places, the pace of the dialogue needs to be snappier and, on the whole, scenes lack dynamics; director Hannah Chissick ought to apply a musical ear to the spoken words so that moments of drama can build and flow and reach a crescendo.
Apart from all that, the material is not to my taste. A more interesting story might be of a classical ballerina trying to make it as a welder. In the world of this piece, Alex is a skilled welder and nobody bats an eye (and why should they?) but the only other options for women seem to be working in clubs, performing suggestive routines, and parading around for the male gaze. No wonder Alex wants to escape these dated sexual politics.
Despite Clifton’s sterling, tireless efforts, I’m not engaged by Alex’s tribulations. I applaud the performance but I don’t enjoy the piece. Oh well.
And I’m still wondering what became of her co-workers, like Rhodri Watkins’s Andy, facing redundancy and hardship. The story seems to forget about them…