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Ballroom review at Waterloo East Theatre, London – ‘negligible direction’

Scene from Ballroom at Waterloo East Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Piwko Scene from Ballroom at Waterloo East Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Piwko
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Receiving its British premiere nearly 40 years after its Broadway debut in 1978, Ballroom is a fascinating curiosity of a musical. However the thing that made it most famous in its day is also that which is singularly lacking here: a choreographic vision.

Ballroom was originally directed and choreographed by the late, great Michael Bennett. It was his first show after the immense success of A Chorus Line in 1975 put the lives of working Broadway dancers front and centre. In this altogether more low-key show, he looked at the denizens of a local dance hall, and how their regular attendance there brings them a sense of community.

Nancy Kettle’s choreography here is perfunctory at best. So is the negligible direction. There’s little sense of pace or place. There are clumsy blackouts between scenes as the basic set is transformed from the shop or home of the widowed Bea to the dance hall where she finds a new life and love with a married man.

As played with an appropriately pinched reserve by Jessica Martin, Bea is touching and true. She delivers the show’s great cry of resignation Fifty Percent, in which Bea sings of settling for what she can get, with painful but brassy honesty.

Inga Davis-Rutter’s five-piece band offers her strong musical support, but the impoverished staging doesn’t do her or them justice.

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Threadbare production of a Broadway musical never previously seen in Britain