Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Accomplished and brash ballroom dancing makes the touring Keep Dancing entertaining enough.
Publicity for the show concentrates on its (unofficial) links with Strictly Come Dancing, with the names of last year’s winners Jay McGuiness and Aliona Vilani prominent. However, any fans of theirs risk disappointment.
The pair (part of a selection of ‘celebrity guests’ appearing at different cities on the tour) contribute one dance in each half – a sweet enough waltz and a somewhat diffident rumba. Even throwing in a lame Q & A and an appearance at the finale, they are onstage for less than ten minutes in total. Their trademark jive, moreover, fails to make an appearance – and without it, McGuiness, for all his boyish charm, does not have much reason to be featuring in a dance show.
Perhaps Vilani’s recently announced pregnancy has curtailed her involvement – but, whatever the circumstances, the way the show has been promoted may encourage unrealistic expectations. The use of two other Strictly alumni to sell the production also seems confused – any long-term viewers will instantly recognise Robin Windsor, whose elegantly sculpted hair and beard are distinguishable from a hundred paces. However, only the most committed viewers will recall Anya Garnis, whose one series partnering of Patrick Robinson is hardly enough to make her a household name.
There can be no doubting the quality of their dancing, with Windsor in particular lighting up the stage whenever he appears. Their featured numbers, such as a dramatic Argentine tango, are the evening’s highlights – although it is an error of programming to have their sinuous rumba so close to the guest stars’ effort, as McGuiness suffers by comparison.
Windsor and Garnis can only do so much, and once again the audience could feel short-changed. Most of the show is carried by a nine-strong ensemble, who are perfectly good at what they do, and by three live vocalists.
At times it threatens to become the singers’ show. Adam Warmington, Lisa-Marie Holmes and Harriette Mullen manage to escape the occasional hints of Vic Reeves’s club style and those dreaded X Factor curlicues, carrying the whole thing with no little style. However, there are too many numbers where, contrary to the title, there is no dancing at all. It is impossible not to wonder why they do not have more songs with a couple of dancers on stage, as they do on television.
Keep Dancing – the Conga. Photo: Keep Dancing publicity
While Strictly Come Dancing may have redefined light entertainment for the 21st century, this harks back to an earlier era. It is rare for a venue as huge as the Playhouse to take on the air of a cabaret venue, but there is something inescapably cruise-ship about this. The opening even conjures up the spirit of 1970s dance troupe the Young Generation, which on balance is probably not a good thing.
Where the production scores is in its sheer variety. Bashing through forty numbers at an average of two minutes each, the message is very definitely ‘if you don’t like this one, there’ll be another along very soon’. A bewildering array of dance styles appear, and if the ensemble and choreographer Emma Rogers are not masters of them all, they have a pretty fair stab at it.
At times, the frantic nature of events is a drawback – as soon as you start to applaud one dance, the next has started, but there is little possibility of anyone getting bored. The second half in particular is over in a flash.
The more expansive dances come across the best – Charleston, Jive, a dramatically stompy paso-styled affair featuring Windsor and the other male dancers stripped to the waist – and there is much to enjoy here. Whether it provides what was promised is another matter.
Running time 2 hours 5 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 15 – Saturday 19 November 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/keep-dancing/edinburgh-playhouse/
Keep Dancing on tour:
Tue 15 – Sat 19 November
0844 871 3014
Tue 6 – Sat 10 December
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011