Posted on January 24, 2013
Snow fell heavily outside Birmingham National Indoor Arena on January 20, but dedicated Strictly enthusiasts aren’t easily kept from their sequins. Directed by Craig Revel Horwood, the live show aims to give the audience the television experience, complete with voting, training videos and comments from the judges.
In their training VTs, several of the celebrities single out the Wembley episode of the series, perhaps because it’s the closest to the tour experience. The VTs are firmly comic: the show has a panto atmosphere, with the audience happily shouting back catchphrases. Everyone dutifully pretends to be on tenterhooks about the winner of this performance, but we know the stakes aren’t as high as for a series final.
That makes the live tour a jolly postscript, a chance to relive favourite moments or add a comic spin to the dramas. James Jordan’s competitiveness is played up and played for laughs. Dani Harmer dances with Pasha Kovalev rather than her onscreen partner Vincent Simone, so her VT is full of jokes about turning Pasha into Vincent. In fact, it’s fun to see Harmer with a new partner. She keeps her bouncy charm, but stretches into longer lines.
Horwood builds the live show around the personalities of his celebrity lineup. Last year leaned heavily on the unnerving comedy of Nancy dell’Olio. This year, he has a more even field. Lisa Riley shimmies joyfully with Robin Windsor. Fern Britton does a dignified turn with Artem Chigvintsev, then spends interviews making gleeful innuendos about his celebrated chest.
The show makes a joke of Michael Vaughan’s iffy Latin, but lets him show off his affinity for ballroom, dancing a warm American Smooth with Natalie Lowe. Since Strictly still needs a comedy candidate, Phil Tufnell returns, making jokes about his dad dancing.
The real contest is between Denise Van Outen, dancing with James Jordan, and Louis Smith, now dancing with Ola Jordan. Van Outen’s jive and Charleston are quick, slick and brightly polished, full of speedy turns and snappy timing. Smith relaxed as a dancer over the course of the series, finding more drama and fluidity in his dancing, but it’s his handsome face and backflips that win him the trophy.
The Strictly live show makes a big, bouncy production, tailored for huge venues. Judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Horwood all play up to their reputations, with Horwood having particular fun with his grumpy faces. Pacing is brisk, with glossy numbers for the live band and for the professional dancers.
Words: Zoë Anderson