Dirty Dancing – Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Federico Bellone
Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty

Dirty Dancing isn’t so much a stage adaptation of the now classic 1987 movie starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze as the two lovers from different worlds, but almost a complete transcription. Set in 1963 when America was under the watchful eye of John F. Kennedy, Frances “Baby” Houseman (Katie Hartland) is spending her summer at Kellerman’s holiday resort with her parents and older sister. There, she meets Johnny Castle (Lewis Griffiths), a bad boy dancer who teaches her more about the world, one mambo at a time.

In transition from screen to stage, compromises have been made. Rather than tweaking the story slightly to take advantage of the theatrical setting, writer Eleanor Bergstein and director Federico Bellone have stuck rigidly with the script and structure of the film. While this will no doubt please hardcore fans of the original, it’s rather frustrating at times with scenes whizzing by with characters running around and up and down sets. It definitely gives the production pace, but at times it feels rushed.

Hartland is superb as Baby and shows her transition from an innocent daddy’s girl to a young woman over the course of the summer wonderfully, really bringing out the character’s passion and determination for wanting to make the world a better place. Her progression from a klutz who can’t dance to a woman who can hold her own on the dancefloor is utterly believable and hilarious. While Griffiths is no Patrick Swayze, he definitely has attitude – and hips – for Johnny. Thankfully, the pair works very well together and their romance sizzles under the hot stage lights.

Carlie Milner is stunning as Penny Johnson, the talented dancer who falls pregnant to “Robbie the creep”; she definitely tugs on heartstrings during Penny’s more emotional scenes. Lizzie Ottley is hysterical as Baby’s ditzy older sister Lisa who pulls the laughs with her excruciatingly awful audition for the final show and shines in all her scenes.

The dancing – as expected – is slick and the ensemble is packed with gifted performers, but they’re not utilised enough in the big numbers. Similarly, with the singers. Though a highlight is Billy’s (Michael Kent) spine-tingling performance of In the Still of the Night. The ‘60s soundtrack is incredible, but is another casualty of the transition from screen to stage, with many tracks only appearing in snippets like the film, though this does calm down a bit in Act II.

Roberto Comotti’s set design is quite impressive, with large structures of the holiday house and the staff kids’ quarters making up the main set. The iconic scene where Baby and Johnny walk across the fallen tree is very clever and is a stand out element of the set. Projection is used during a couple of scenes, but it’s sparing and very effective. However, again as a result of sticking rigidly to the original screenplay, the large sets fly on and off stage all over the place as one scene cuts to another. It takes some of the attention away from the characters and at times is quite noisy.  

While following the original screenplay so rigidly will delight many of the audience, the inflexibility with the source material hinders the performance in a few places. It is a shame really as the production as a whole is splendid and the cast is hugely talented. All in, Dirty Dancing is a sizzling love story filled with imopressive choreography and a brilliant soundtrack. A great night out.

Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: Dreamteam Pics


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