Put on your dancing shoes
PUBLISHED: 12:15 03 October 2008 | UPDATED: 17:19 16 August 2010
THE talent and commitment that has flowed through the Theatre Royal Stratford East since Joan Littlewood s brilliant productions in the
THE talent and commitment that has flowed through the Theatre Royal Stratford East since Joan Littlewood's brilliant productions in the 1960s has ensured a diverse and loyal following in the community which is unrivalled in the London area.
In the latest production, Come Dancing, Ray Davies of The Kinks has chosen to open his heart and allow us to view the world of his childhood through his eyes, and the ballroom of the 'Palais' is the microcosm that we enter to see his family living out their dreams and frustrations, their aspirations weighed down by the millstones of their culture, making life a constant battle.
A polished wooden dance floor with Chinese lanterns and crystal chandelier create the visual effect, with a dance band softly playing Sunny Side Of The Street as dancers gyrate slowly and elegantly.
Members of the audience enter this timewarp to sit at cabaret tables and red plush chairs.
They are part of - but do not participate in - the action.
Ray arrives in a crumpled suit and face to match, launches into his big hit Come Dancing and complains that: "I'm never happy with the ending of this song".
Then he introduces us to his theatreland mother and father, and his three older sisters, who all regard the dancehall as the place where they will find whatever it is that is lacking in their lives. A husband perhaps, or just a venue for the exercise of their talents which go unnoticed in their hundrum lives.
'Uncle' Frankie, the odious bandleader-cum-MC is somehow related to the family, but is taking a much too hands on role with the mother and her youngest daughter Julie.
Julie is slightly disabled after a brush with polio in her childhood and is left with a limp. This makes dancing almost impossible and exposes to her cruel remarks, but she has inherited her mother's lovely singing voice and Frankie dreams of recruiting her to save the Palais from the tsunami of Rock & Roll which is threatening to destroy 50 years of beautiful music and elegant dancing - along with the inane patter that he has developed to go with it.
The three boyfriends of the sisters are beautifully realised in their dysfunctional attitudes and decent, loving endeavours to win the girls and create a new life after the war.
There is a hysterical number where sister Rose and her Beau extol the virtues of Stevenage - "A new town south of Hitchin" - the best feature of which is its distance from ma and pa so that they can't drop in every day.
This is a warm-hearted and prescient look at what we were, and by implication, what we have become, highlighting the twin themes of intense love and cruelty which bedevilled the 1950s. Of course, there are nits to be picked, Hamilton - the Jamaican boyfriend and unwanted intruder into the cosy musical setup of the Palais - is a character we've seen just a tad too often, and Rita, the big voiced singer from the shady side of town, is introduced as a Rhythm and Blues artist, but sings gospel style. The production is lovingly directed by Kerry Michael, but he allows it to drift into rock opera at times which is unsuitable and jars with the social realism and romanticism of the rest of the show. There is a wonderful recreation of the setting up of a Rockabilly group by the three boys, which peels the years away and we are back with Hughie Green and Opportunity Knocks. All in all this is a another gem from the Stratford stable, so if you want to experience a real Saturday night out, book up for this once in a lifetime
* Come Dancing is at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, London E15 1BN until October 25. Tickets are from £9 to £40 and available from the box office 020 8534 7374.