REVIEW: DIRTY DANCING (Phoenix Theatre) ★★

ddancingThe summer of 1963, when teenagers were still affectionately known as kids and happy to holiday with their parents. For Baby Houseman (Katie Hartland), this summer is one of ambition, dancing and first love.

I’m not sure what it is about Dirty Dancing, but it’s become one of the most iconic films of the last few decades. The soundtrack is great, the story very sweet and the script super cheesy. And, of course, Patrick Swayze. It’s not many people’s absolute favourite perhaps, but no matter how many times you watch it, you always get that strange, happy feeling in the final scene.

However, the stage version is an utter shambles.

On the one hand, it tries so hard to be like the film that the magic is lost. There are far too many sets, which leads to breaks in dialogue and atmosphere as scenes are changed. At one point the stage is plunged into darkness; cue a ridiculous amount of lighting and sound effects, all for five seconds of Baby and Johnny Castle (Lewis Griffiths) in a car in the rain.

Yet at the same time it is quite different from the film, with shifts in character importance and an awful lot of unnecessary (and quite poor) singing in places to help to move the story along and, presumably, give the main actors time to change costume.

Hartland is very believable as the naive Baby, especially her dancing journey. While her acting is generally good, she and Griffiths struggle with their chemistry and the relationship is far from convincing.

It’s actually a pleasant surprise that it is the dancing that picks this show up and provides a spark of the magic we expect. Charlie Milner is excellent as Penny; her dancing is delightful and she performs very well as her character. Credit too must be given to the ensemble dancers and the Kellerman’s band while Lizzie Ottley (Lisa) and Michael Kent (Billy) are both very endearing in their roles.

Unfortunately, despite the dancing itself and the unshakeable warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of the show when that song is playing and they do that lift, Dirty Dancing is one of the biggest theatrical disappointments of this year. Sadly, I did not have the time of my life.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

DIRTY DANCING plays at the Phoenix Theatre until 31 December 2016. Tickets