Dirty Dancing at The Bristol Hippodrome - Theatre Review
Posted on: 2019-07-02
The production more than does the film justice and even puts its own spin on the classic. The end of the night was rung in with a standing ovation and deafening applause, and rightly so.
Review of Dirty Dancing at The Bristol Hippodrome from Monday 1st to 6th July 1st 2019
It was back in 1987 that we were introduced to Johnny and Baby in the wholesome Catskill Mountains New York holiday resort. Many scraped knees and bruised elbows later, it became apparent that lifting someone above your head probably was best practiced in the water. Nevertheless, nobody puts baby in the corner and ‘I've had the time of my life’ would rouse memories of that hazy summer for men and women alike worldwide for years to come.
A Sky Movies survey listed Dirty Dancing as number one on "Women's most-watched films", above the Star Wars trilogy, Grease, The Sound of Music, and Pretty Woman. With prestige like that, it’s no surprise the stage production of the beloved film became the longest running show in the history of the Aldwych Theatre and played to over 2 million people during its triumphant 5 year run.
Now in Bristol’s Hippodrome, the atmosphere in the theatre is electric. The mostly female audience is littered with mums and daughters, groups of friends and some reluctant boyfriends who are here to relive one of the most famous musicals of all time, and of course, that epic lift.
As the actors bounce on stage, you can see the youthful glow on all their faces, their denim shorts and high school jerseys in contrast with the ‘stuffy; tailoring and suits of the parents and adults. The set is a very clever and slick set of wooden houses which spin to reveal modest bedrooms, a restaurant and clubhouse and the hidden staff quarters where the dancers let loose after hours.
A nod has to be made to the ingenious use of projection to represent the practice scene in the lake, designed to raise a laugh it was a simple yet effective method used to tackle what could have been a challenging set.
Michael O’Reilly who plays Swayze’s part, donning shades and a black t shirt, cuts an almost cartoonish figure. If you’ve ever seen the cartoon ‘Johnny Bravo’, you’ll agree the resemblance is uncanny. It will shock no one that his past accolades include Magic Mike Live on the Britain’s Got Talent 2018 final. His carved and sculpted physique isn't wasted on the mostly female audience, who squealed with glee when the inevitable ‘love scene’ between him and baby happens and his torso is slowly disrobed. However, to reduce him to a mannequin is far from fair. O’Reilly is a strong, talented and purposeful dancer, who seamlessly spins and lifts his dance partners around with such ease, they appear to be filled with feathers.
Katie Eccles, who played ‘baby’ could be mistaken for our beloved Jennifer Grey in a heartbeat and her tiny frame commands the audience - doing justice to both the clumsy learner and confident woman roles we see metamorphosize on stage.
Memorable performances that need to be mentioned came primarily from Lizzie Ottley, (Lisa Houseman, baby’s sister). Her musical numbers in the second act were kitsch and funny, with her grass skirt and flower lei, she manages to make her performance as a supporting actress become a distant memory whenever she sweetly sings her Hawaiian ditty.
Secondly, Tito Suarez (Colin Charles) dulcet tones accompany most of the scenes in the resort’s clubhouse and it feels like without him in the chorus, there would be a depth and richness missing. He also cracks out some impressive tap skills.
The play is a real dichotomy of the carefree whims of the teenage lovers, dancing and drinking, playing Simon Says and singing in the summer, to the woes of the Vietnam war. Baby is hoping to join the peace corps and in one scene the players sit around a fire and discuss the speeches of Martin Luther King. The air of innocence is pierced with some serious topics and themes. Most notably the pregnancy and subsequent abortion suffered by Penny Johnson (Simone Covele).
There are some raunchy love scenes (again rousing much approval from the audience) and these again are tastefully executed and completely necessary to remind us that these teenagers are testing limits, growing up and exploring the world.
The production more than does the film justice and even puts its own spin on the classic. The end of the night was rung in with a standing ovation and deafening applause, and rightly so. With new dates on sale on the 20th July for Ipswich, Manchester, Guildford, Grimsby, Glasgow and Bristol, get your tickets while you still can.
Talicza has only lived in Bristol for three years, but has been reviewing gigs, shows and albums for decades as well as writing her own true crime podcast ‘transatlantic crime’