Writer: Amanda Whittington
Director: Theresa Heskins
Set Designer: Dawn Allsop
Choreographer: Beverley Edmunds
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Amanda Whittington’s gift for situational comedy/drama is seen at its best in Kiss Me Quickstep, now touring in an entertaining and well-judged production from the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The original idea is promising: follow three couples at the Amateur Ballroom Championships in Blackpool and chart their progress through two days of dance competition. There’s plenty of opportunity for comedy, mishap and classy dance moves, but Whittington drops a heavy hint in the programme with the line, “More couples split up at Blackpool than Christmas.” So from the start the audience is on the look-out for which couple(s) will break up as well as which couple (if any) will win – and probably most people will get both wrong.
Blackpool-based Nancy Knight’s partner is Luka Kralj from Moscow – odd, we think, until the machinations of her dominant father, Mick, become clear. Justin and Jodie Atherton have fallen on hard times after he lost his job through taking time off for dancing: huge debts and a clapped out car don’t sit well with spending hundreds of pounds on sequined splendour. Lee Hart and Samantha Shaw apparently have no problems: they always win and even have the privilege of their own dressing room.
Not quite stereotypes, these still can be seen as conventional, even predictable, types: the overbearing father trying to buy success, the married couple struggling to save their marriage as well as their dance careers, the effortlessly superior winners. However, Amanda Whittington pursues a subtle course. She gets the expected laughs, but she also cleverly withholds, then reveals, information about her characters and sets up a series of convincing and credible developments to leave us at the end in a quite unexpected place.
Theresa Heskins’ production has the necessary swagger and glamour when needed with the assistance of Beverley Edmunds’ choreography, suitably extravagant dresses and the minimal elegance of Dawn Allsop’s set, atmospherically lit by Daniella Beattie.
However, in terms of characters and relationships, both text and production are surprisingly understated and allusive – and the better for it. Isaac Stanmore (Luka), Amy Barnes (Samantha) and Ed White (Lee) give performances of perfectly judged ambiguity. Matt Crosby (Justin) and Abigail Moore (Jodie) chart the ever-changing dynamic of failure and hope with humour, viciousness and basic decency without attempting to suggest there is a right solution. Jack Lord peels off the layers of generosity, fun and parental fussing to reveal the truth about Mick and Hannah Edwards’ mixture of confusion and conviction as Nancy is real and touching.
All the cast negotiate the dance moves with panache and for good measure, Matt Crosby adds as good a stage fall as you’re ever likely to see. Crowding out the Stephen Joseph stage, the dancers of Kate Buchan Social Dancing ably suggest the massed ranks of Blackpool competitors.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed