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By K.L John



Monday, October 13, 2008.


Being a Strictly Come Dancing fanatic, it didn’t take more than a second for me to agree to review the Theatre Royal’s production of Come Dancing, even if Ray Davies wasn’t an overly familiar name. 


I wasn’t exactly sure how a play about ‘a time when Saturday night dancing at the local Palais was the magical, not-to-be-missed highlight of every young person’s week’ was pertinent to the black community, but keeping an open mind I trundled up to Stratford in East London one winter’s night. 


I was in for a treat! 


As the cast and members of the public danced around the floor, a big band played uplifting tunes that let the audience know that we would be entertained.  Come Dancing is an autobiographical tale of The Kinks’ frontman’s early family life, or rather his three elder sisters and their parents’ pilgrimage to the Ilford Palais. 


A clear picture of early 1950s working class life emerges; menial employment for low payment meant that work was an unpleasant means of survival, not the fulfilment of dreams.   


Ambitious Arthur is however determined to make a success of himself by moving to one of the new, exciting towns being built, Like Stevenage. A picture is painted of a post-blitz London where the debris is yet to be cleared, and of a new breed of youth, which is struggling to burst free of the stuffiness of the past. 


This struggle is personified by Trotter’s obsession with singing rock and roll and the Palais’ refusal to modernise his repertoire of big band standards.    


Into the middle of this societal tension played out in the music hall walks Hamilton, a Jamaican migrant who is also trying to make a better life for himself.  Whatever the men’s problems, they are able to put them aside in the all-consuming rush to make Winston scarce. 


Unfortunately, Winston is befriended by Trotter’s would-be beau, an open-hearted Julie, who shows Winston that human kindness does indeed exist in En-glan.  It is Julie, and the flash appearances of Rita, who really steal the show, although all the actors perform well and the relationships between the characters are wonderful to watch. 


Kinks fans will not be disappointed, nor will anyone who appreciates a good song and dance.  The social commentary was truly insightful, serving up a chilling reminder of ‘life’ for black people in Britain between Windrush and the Race Relations Acts, and the confines of working-class life before social mobility was commonplace. 


For those claiming the current wave of knife crime is somehow new and unique, a sober reminder of the relationship between poverty and blades is in store. 


All the action takes place to a great soundtrack and the characters are warm, interesting and likeable.  The theatre was perfectly suited to this play, and not only because of its history of supporting black theatre.  A different blast from the past, and one which is definitely worth catching, especially if you love Strictly.


Image by Robert Day. 


Come Dancing is playing at London's Theatre Royal in Stratford until November 8, 2008.  Call the box office on 020 8534 0310.


 © 2008

K.L John is The New Black Magazine's Francophone Correspondent.

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