Review: Tango Moderno at the Orchard Theatre

Guest review by Debika Cutts

They are back! Strictly dance superstars Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone return to wow audiences with their fourth production – Tango Moderno – and they do not disappoint! Previous sell out shows have included Midnight Tango, Dance till Dawn and The Last Tango; very much an audience favourite, they have danced together for over two decades. The production, with the help of director and choreographer Karen Bruce, cleverly gives a modern twist to a 19th century traditional Argentinian dance. It works superbly well.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

The story tells of “Cupids of Tango” – Flavia and Vincent – who encourage the singleton characters in the show to go out and find love. It reflects, in its prose and through the dance, the perils of modern day society who are reliant on mobile phones and social media dating sites such as Tinder, and addresses the issues of commuting, loneliness and even a world which includes Donald Trump.

The scene of the story is set through the medium of a narrator – the talented Tom Parsons – whose prose and poetry is sublime and whose renditions of modern day pop songs excellent. Any performance which includes an Ed Sheeran classic – Shape of You – is bound to excite an audience of any age and persuasion! Other songs not necessarily expected from a tango-inspired show, yet which work well, include popular hits Human by Rag n Bone Man, Seven Years by Lukas Graham and The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars, and are a hit amongst younger viewers.

Vincent and Flavia’s chemistry and professionalism during the duos is an absolute pleasure to watch. Vincent had not been able to perform in last year’s shows due to an injury but now he returns to top form thankfully, as he does what he does best. Flavia’s performance is particularly breathtaking and the intensity of the kicks and movement is spine tingling with the pair fusing together ballroom, Latin and Argentinian tango.

The pair are supported by a talented cast of dancers who mix street, hip hop, jive and contemporary to produce an energetic and entertaining story for the audience. If you are expecting to just see tango then this isn’t the show for you – you get so so much more. This is a show that showcases the talents of the written word through Tom Parsons, the incredible voice of Rebecca Lisewski who truly is a highlight of the show, the talent of accomplished violinist Oliver Lewis whose performance of the Flight of the Bumblebee drew gasps of surprise and received lengthy applause, many different genres of dance and of course the reason for this show – Flavia and Vincent.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

There are a couple of moments in the show that some may class as cheesy perhaps – the dancers coming out in wheelbarrows, shopping trollies and lawnmowers as an example – but the enthusiasm and talent make up for this and the point of their reflections are well understood and appreciated by the audience. I’m not sure it’s purely a show on tango – perhaps naming the performance Cupid’s Dance Moderno would be more apt?

Saying that, the classical tango finale is definitely purely tango in its truest form and worth the anticipation. A haunting and mesmerising dance showcasing our main stars’ phenomenal talent. The lighting is just right, the music is just right and the dancing and chemistry as they perform the classical tango has the audience up on their feet.

A wonderful show and great performances by a strong cast. Highly recommended.

Tango Moderno is at the Orchard Theatre until 24th March.

Interview: BoxLess Theatre, LOOP

Opening next month at Theatre N16, LOOP is the debut production from BoxLess Theatre. The show charts three generations of one family, from 1965 to the present day, and explores how they evolve, change and fall in love along with the music that they listen to.

Resident Writer Alexander Knott and Artistic Director Zoë Grain collaborated on the creation of LOOP, combining words and moves with music from the 60s, 80s and present day. “The show was inspired by Zöe, who knew she wanted to do a piece that was intrinsically about music, and how it can be the soundtrack to our lives,” explains Alexander. “That, and the image of a Walkman and a set of 80s headphones. From there we brainstormed the characters and arrived at different ways of how they could be related. It was quite late on in the writing that it was apparent that they were all one family – for a while, it was just a series of unconnected vignettes, but now it’s more of a sequential story.”

“The project was jumpstarted when Second Sons Theatre asked us to devise a ten minute piece for their ‘Play Time’ festival of new writing, last September,” continues Zoë. “Alexander worked up some draft monologues and we devised a short scene, that gave the essence of the play. Half a year down the line, the rest of the play is written and that extract now comes in the middle of the story. Actors Aaron Price and Rubie Ozanne are reprising their roles as ‘The Boy’ and ‘The Girl’, with Emily Thornton and James Demaine completing the cast.”

Choreographer Zoë set up BoxLess Theatre last year, after graduating from Italia Conti. “My aim has always been to make physical theatre something accessible to people of different disciplines and experience, not just for classically trained dancers,” she explains. “The training at Italia Conti Acting, where the cast and creative team met, has always shown movement as a way of expressing the story of a play in a very immediate way, and BoxLess is taking this a step further with a piece that combines physical theatre and new writing. Dance for everyone, essentially, and not just for the few.”

After months in development, the show finally opens on 6th June at Balham’s Theatre N16. “We’re all feeling excited, with a definite hint of butterflies, and there’s still plenty to do,” says Alexander. “But N16 is a great space – intimate, yet versatile, and with a lot of atmosphere. The preview of the show was performed there, so we feel like we know how to move in that space. Rehearsals have a great, collaborative energy to them, with everyone bringing ideas to the table. There’s always going to be that ‘going out on a limb’ nervousness when creating a new piece of theatre, but the show is taking shape, and we’re starting to see it come to life.”

LOOP offers a great opportunity to enjoy a bit of musical nostalgia, but there’s a lot more to the show than a simple trip down memory lane. “We’d like audiences to go away with that feeling of having seen a satisfying story. Seeing the characters grow and change – after all, the story covers the best part of 60 years – and how something that happens to one of them in 1965 might influence choices made in the present, should be really engaging. We want the movement to be as slick and expressive as it can be – there’s something intensely satisfying in well-executed physical theatre. Also, perhaps, leaving the theatre with a sense of hopefulness; the play is, we think, about hope, about looking forward and letting go of the past.”

Book now for LOOP at Theatre N16 from 6th-10th June.

Review: Dirty Dancing at the Orchard Theatre

It’s a show that needs no introduction. Like the movie on which it’s based, Dirty Dancing the musical has been a runaway success ever since it first opened in Australia in 2004, and continues to thrill its devoted fan base to this day (this is a show that has no need to cast TV or pop stars to bring in the crowds). Now it’s back for a brand new 2016/17 tour, directed by Federico Bellone – and while return visitors may notice a few differences in the staging, the show itself retains a comforting familiarity that pretty much guarantees its ongoing success.

Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics
Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics

For die-hard fans, there’s really very little I can say by way of review, because the show lifts almost all its dialogue, music, dance moves and even some of the costumes directly from the movie – and as long as Baby gets to carry a watermelon, and nobody puts her in a corner, there’s not much for even the harshest critic to complain about. There are a few additional scenes that seem intended to provide a bit of depth, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the truth is nobody’s going to see Dirty Dancing to hear about freedom riding or how Baby’s parents got together; the show would have gone down just as well without any of the extra content. (Well, with the exception of Johnny flashing his bum, which I think it’s fair to say most members of the audience considered an essential and long overdue addition.)

The cast, led by Katie Hartland and Lewis Griffiths, do a great job of recreating their well-known characters in both look and personality. The dance numbers are genuinely sensational and a joy to watch, particularly those featuring Griffiths with Carlie Milner, who plays Penny. And there are strong vocals from Michael Kent and Daniela Pobega, although it does feel like the show could have given these two talented singers more opportunities to shine; most of the musical tracks are taken straight from the original soundtrack, with a full-length version of She’s Like The Wind the only noticeable absence.

Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics
Photo credit: Dreamteam Pics

Roberto Comotti’s rotating set reproduces every bit of Kellerman’s camp in all its wholesome glory (the effect marred only slightly by a distracting mechanical squeak that could often be heard even over the music), while a huge video screen is put to equally effective use for other scenes – the bit in the lake is particularly creative, drawing audible sounds of appreciation from the audience.

With Dirty Dancing, you get exactly what you’d expect: an entertaining story, familiar characters, a few steamy moments, and a string of fabulous music and dance numbers. It’s also a massive cheese fest, obviously, but the show makes no effort to gloss over that fact, choosing instead of revel in it and, if anything, take it up a notch. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think it’s fair to say this is a show that will have audiences singing, dancing, swooning, and having the time of their lives (sorry, I couldn’t help it) for many years to come.

Dirty Dancing is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 10th September.

Review: Into The Hoods: Remixed at the Orchard Theatre

Think you don’t like hip hop? Think again…

When one of my friends told me I had to go and see ZooNation, I was a bit sceptical, to say the least – it’s really not my sort of thing. But I’m always happy to be proved wrong (where theatre’s concerned, anyway), so when I heard the company were coming back to the Orchard, I figured I’d give them a try. And I’m really glad I did.

Into The Hoods was ZooNation’s first full-length show back in 2006. Since then it’s become the West End’s first hip hop dance show, won What’s On Stage and Olivier Awards, and formed part of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations. Into The Hoods: Remixed is, as you might expect, a new, revamped version of the hit show; it follows two children on an adventure in the Ruff Endz Estate, where they must collect various items from a host of familiar characters… with a twist. Spinderella longs to be a DJ, if she can only get away from her ugly sisters. Singer Lil Red gets tricked into signing with Wolf, who runs Big Teef Records. Rap-on-Zel is kept locked up by her father, the landlord of Beanstalk Towers. And then there’s Jaxx, who lives in the basement (get it?).

Into The Hoods: Remixed, ZooNation

As a company, ZooNation, led by director Kate Prince, aims to make hip hop accessible to a wider audience, and there’s no doubt from the enthusiastic crowd response that Into The Hoods does exactly that. Musical director DJ Walde’s soundtrack has something for everyone, covering decades and countless different styles; there’s even a Charleston segment at one point. Rewriting fairy tales for a new generation – the items the children are looking for include ‘an iPhone as white as milk and a hoodie as red as blood’ – the show skilfully intertwines them into a story that has romance, drama and plenty of humour (the retirement home routine is particularly brilliant) yet always remains completely family friendly. And the cast, who range in age from just 16 to 37, are not only incredibly talented, but have an irresistible energy that seems to have no limits. You get the feeling they could cheerfully go on all night – as could the audience.

There’s a fantastic family atmosphere up on stage; everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, and no one performer outshines anyone else. The ensemble numbers too are genuinely a joy to watch – there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching a company who work together so well. In the same way, the lighting, set and video backdrop all combine perfectly with the choreography to create a seamless, polished production that’s easy to follow and really great to look at.

I officially stand corrected; Into The Hoods is a fantastic show, whether or not you think of yourself as a hip hop fan. And ZooNation’s company ethos is also to be admired – they believe passionately in investing in young people, and run various projects specifically aimed at nurturing young talent. If the brilliant performers on stage tonight are anything to go by, they’re definitely doing something right.

Into The Hoods: Remixed is at the Orchard Theatre until 9th March.

Review: Footloose at the Orchard Theatre

Footloose, as most people above a certain age will know, was the 1984 movie starring a young Kevin Bacon as teenager Ren McCormack. Forced to leave Chicago and move to the small town of Bomont, Ren discovers that dancing’s been banned by the town council, and immediately sets about trying to change their minds. It’s based on a true story about Elmore City, Oklahoma, and touches on issues of religion, loss, prejudice and gender roles.

Now adapted for the stage by the movie’s original creator Dean Pitchford, and directed by Racky Plews, Footloose is a toe-tapping triumph of a show in which the multi-talented cast are also the band; they may not always be allowed to dance but they can still express themselves through music, playing everything from the electric guitar to the oboe. This gives the show a very collaborative feel, reminiscent of the brilliant Once (although in every other respect the two couldn’t be more different).

Luke Baker as Ren and the cast of Footloose. Photo Credit Matt Martin
Photo credit: Matt Martin

It might surprise some people to learn that the show’s big name star, Gareth Gates, doesn’t play the central role of Ren. That honour goes to Luke Baker, who gives an impressive, layered performance as the tortured teen. Gates, meanwhile, plays Ren’s friend Willard, in what turns out to be a perfect piece of casting. He’s a bit awkward, nervous around girls and far too attached to his mama, but with a twinkly charm and impeccable comic timing that’s guaranteed to win over anyone who still thinks of him as just that guy from Pop Idol. And his performance is memorable for another reason… but I won’t ruin the surprise.

Maureen Nolan – no stranger to emotional roles after recently reprising her role as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers – plays Vi Moore, the preacher’s wife torn between loyalty to her husband (Nigel Lister) and concern about the rebellious behaviour of their daughter, Ariel (Hannah Price, who makes her professional debut in style). But it would be wrong to single out any one cast member; this is very much a team effort, and a fantastic one at that.

Photo credit: Matt Martin
Photo credit: Matt Martin

Choreographer Matthew Cole has captured the freedom of dance that’s so key to the story; though it may not all be particularly elegant, it’s full of energy and an irresistible joy to watch. The cast also make the line dancing routines look very easy, which I know from brutal experience they really aren’t. (I went to a line dancing class the other day. Let’s move on.)

And finally there’s the music, some of which was written specially for the musical by Tom Snow – but the tunes that really get the audience bopping in their seats are the classic hits from the movie, which include I Need A Hero, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and, of course, the title track. It’s a perfect piece of 80s nostalgia, for those of us old enough to remember that far back; for everyone else it’s just great fun.

Footloose is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until Saturday 13th February.