January. Dark. Dull. Drizzly. Resolutions have been broken. Payday is so far away – and you won’t have any money when it comes anyway. Oh to be transported back to those December days where sequins, glitter and feathers were de riguer. When dancing around the kitchen, doing the Viennese Waltz with the mop was an acceptable form of exercise. When every song that comes on a radio becomes a tango, or a salsa, or a charleston. Or a fusion of all three. That’s why January is the best month for the annual Strictly Come Dancing Live tour, and as luck would have it, it always kicks off here in Birmingham. And as luck would have it again, Mr Fletche bought me tickets for Christmas, with the explicit terms and conditions attached that I take “anybody but him”. Mr Fletche’s loss is Ma Lee’s gain.
So this is how we find ourselves in the Barclaycard Arena on a chilly Friday night. The audience is diverse. There’s young and old, the passionate and excited, the reluctant but accepting of their fate. Gaggles of women, whooping and clutching mini bottles of wine. Families, brandishing golden ’10’ paddles. Dads hoping for a glimpse of Oti Mabuse’s thigh and Moms, wondering whether it’s appropriate to ogle Danny Mac. There’s a giant glitter ball dangling over the dance floor, like one of Pat Butcher’s discarded earrings.
Finally the lights go down, and the show begins! We’re treated to one of the lesser known hits from the fab Hairspray soundtrack, with our stars dressed in eyepopping, lurid coloured outfits, and then introduced to our host for the evening, Anita Rani. She reminds us on several occasions that she too has competed on Strictly. I don’t particularly warm to her as host; plus she can’t say Birmingham properly. There’s a “g” in there Anita. Use it.
All our favourites are back. Our overly emotional 2016 champ Ore Oduba, reprising that jive and his series-winning showdance, albeit with a substitute pro partner. Lesley Joseph, who seriously looks A-MAY-ZING for 71 years young. A minor soap star who looks like a Ken Doll but manages to pull off a seriously saucy samba. The eternally bland Louise and Kevin (he’s from Grimsby don’t you know). The sweet, long-legged rock and fashion progeny that is Daisy Lowe (who I’d forgotten was even in the series to be honest). Oh, and Ed Balls. Who produced the two outstanding moments of the show by giving us that Gangnam Style interpretation once more, and by not dropping his partner Katya this time during the henceforthknown Amarillo lift.
All vids from YouTube from the 2016 BBC Strictly Come Dancing Series
The best 50% of the judges are here too. Our beloved pantomime villain Craig, who treats us to his own Gangnam Style, and outgoing judge Len Goodman – if we were playing a drinking game of downing a shot every time a Len cliche came out, we would still be in Heartlands having our stomach pumped. Yes, pickling the walnuts came out, as did inappropriate comments about buttocks, and some rambling tale about his first girlfriend and a butcher. They’re joined by Karen Hardy, ex Strictly pro and champ (remember that salsa with Mark Ramprakash that went horribly wrong and had them both tied up in a cable like something out of Fifty Shades of Strictly?)
YouTube from the 2006 BBC Strictly Come Dancing Series
As always, it’s the pro numbers which really make the show, which, despite being the 10th anniversary tour, is reasonably understated (well, as understated as a show with fake tans, glitter, sequins and all the camp in camptown can be). There’s a Chicago inspired number (which admittedly I half missed as I did the pre-interval, beat-the-crowds-to-the-toilet dash), a full-on 1930s Hollywood glamour routine with feathers, top hats, tails and canes aplenty, and a West Side Story medley, which didn’t end up with any of our heroes lying stabbed or shot – a deviation from the movie but probably better suited to a family-friendly audience. Although the crowd seemed a little subdued – are Birmingham audiences strangely polite?
Ken Doll triumphed, Kev-from-Grimsby came second (again), and everyone left mumbling that Ed was robbed of finally lifting that glitterball trophy. Strictly Live is definitely an antidote to the January blues. Touring til 5th Feb – more details here.