Thursday, 12 March 2009

Theatre Review: Dirty Dancing @ The Aldwych Theatre

I finally saw Dirty Dancing at the Aldwych Theatre this week. It's a funny one.

I'm sure lots of people know this, but the people behind the show have actually transposed the film, scene for scene, line for line, word for word, onto the stage. And if anyone's interested in looking at the difference between stage and screen writing / blocking / setting, this would make an interesting case study.

As a result, there are some ludicrous moments: where Johnny smashes the window of his car because the keys are shut inside, we have to have a car, on stage, so the actor playing Johnny can smash the window. There's no plot development in this scene, it's hardly essential, and yet there it is, taking up precious moments of a stage show.

Because of the complicated settings in the film (it's a film afterall), Dirty Dancing on stage has some of the most grand, complex, expensive(?), meaningless sets I have ever seen on stage. (OK, except Lord of the Rings and Les Mis.)

The scenery is epic. The log, the dining room, the car, the stage, the kitchen where Penny cries about her pregnancy, Johnny's room, it's all there, recreated on stage as faithfully as possible.

And around all this monstrous set moves what suddenly reveals itself to be one of the flimsiest stories EVER.

I like really Dirty Dancing, the film. I always saw it as a great coming-of-age piece; hilarious, sexy, convincing, great dancing, a little bit magical, a little bit silly, a lot of fun, with great performances from the two leads, Jennifer Grey and the Swaze.

Transported onto the West End stage, word for word, line for line etc, its suddenly slow, clunky, awkward, slow, completely unconvincing, and painfully slow.

Did I mention it felt slow?!

When you're on film, and no-one's speaking, moving, or even doing anything, there's still a sense that the film is alive. Trees move, music plays, time passes. On stage, when no-one's speaking, or moving (Ken Branagh's pregnant pauses in Ivanov aside), NOTHING'S happening. Nothing. You're just waiting for the next bit of film to happen, so the actors on stage can come back to life, and start recreating the film for you again.

Here's a tip: stay in, and watch the film.

Ahh, but maybe this is unfair. It's a fun show. The dancing's good. The two leads do their jobs admirably. In fact, Baby (Leanne Rowe) is likeable, remarkably faithful to the original, and wonderful at recreating the young girl's awkwardness on stage. You have to admire the female cast for their sheer weightlessness: I'm surprised some of them could dance, they were so thin.

And afterall, this is a show for pissed-up hen parties to woop and cat-call at the hunks on stage for a couple of hours before they go clubbing in the West End; it's not meant to be a great piece of theatre.

Once again, though, it does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity to do something thoughtful and meaningful with a fun plot, great music, and the opportunity for some amazing dancing.


  1. Pissed up hen parties? *sigh* Check, in a couple of months time. Day after the Londonist Slow Exposure launch, so at least I'll have a hangover to REALLY help pass the time...

  2. Felt exactly the same as you. Whenever it was quiet.. It made me think the actors were forgetting their lines. It was boring. I didn't feel anything emotionally towards anything of the characters and the romance between the two seemed rushed??

    Was on upper circle and couldnt always tell who was talking! Finale was good though.. but why couldn't the rest of the show be like that?

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