Ray Davies’s Come Dancing

Come Dancing
A musical by Ray Davies – Book (with Paul Sirett) by Ray Davies after the Story by Davies set to his Music and Lyrics

Storyteller – Ray Davies
Hamilton – Delroy Atkinson
Rita – Wendy Mae Brown
Arthur – Bradley Clarkson
Tosher – Marcus Ellard
Basil – Anthony Flaum
Frankie – Alasdair Harvey
Annie – Samantha Hughes
Brenda – Katherine James
Sid – Stephen Lloyd
Rose – Katey Munroe
Julie – Gemma Salter
Alf – Tony Timberlake

The Band: Robert Hyman – Keyboards and Musical Director; Glynn Evans – Bass; Paul Keogh – Guitar; Kevin Oliver Jones – Keyboards, Saxophone, Guitar & Harmonica; Joe Redstone – Drums

Kerry Michael – Director
Harriet Barsby & Jenny Tiramani – Designers
Omar Okai – Choreographer
Joe Joelson – Lighting Designer
James Tebb for Thames Audio – Sound Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 24 September, 2008
Venue: Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London E15

Ray Davies of The Kinks wrote his song ‘Come dancing’ in 1982 but it took him eleven years to get the show called “Come dancing” on the road. Previously rejected by both the National Theatre and a commercial producer, it has finally fetched up at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East which, since the days of Joan Littlewood, has always been a community theatre with one if not both eyes on its local audience. As such “Come dancing” perfectly fits the E15 stage and even flows over into the auditorium as it recreates the ambience of a Saturday night at a local palais-de-danse in the East End.

It is based on Ray Davies’s family and the friends he had while growing up in the 1950s. The local dance hall enshrined herein is the Ilford Palais, which opened in 1911 as a cinema called the Premier Electric Theatre. Situated in a residential area just beyond the main shopping centre, it lasted as a cinema until the 1920s, when the building of bigger and more modern picture palaces saw the Premier closing down. But it re-opened on Boxing Day 1925 as the Ilford Palais-de-danse, with music by the Western Serenaders Dance Band and survived as a music venue until relatively recently, finishing its days as a club called Jumping Jacks. It was demolished last year to make way for a block of flats.

Among the groups and singers who appeared there over the years were Bill Haley and the Comets, The Who, The Small Faces, Sandie Shaw, Kathy Kirby and, of course, The Kinks. Jimmy Savile was once the manager and it’s said that he invented the art of disc jockeying by playing records for the dancers. In its atmosphere and general feeling, “Come dancing”, set in the 1950s, harks back to classic Stratford East shows that Joan Littlewood directed there at this time, such as “Fings ain’t wot they used t’be”, “Make me an offer” and “Sparrers can’t sing”.

In case you think this is just a compilation show of old Kinks hits, you would be wrong. Apart from the title number and a couple of others, all the music is new and written for this show. The new songs may not be as memorable the band’s classic hits, but they should grow on you. What’s more, the show has Ray Davies as the narrator telling his own story.

It’s loosely based on the lives and loves of his three sisters, Brenda, Rose and Julie, but centred on the Ilford Palais. This was a time before rock music had made inroads on public perception so that the host and resident singer at the Palais, the appalling Frankie, was still dishing out old-fashioned pop music in cheesy, retro style. The spotlight falls on Julie, Ray’s sister who had suffered from polio, and that Frankie wants her to work with him. When she meets Hamilton, a Jamaican saxophonist, the bigoted and racist Frankie won’t have him near the place. Julie falls for Hamilton anyway but there’s a glitch when Hamilton is accused of killing Julie’s boyfriend Tosher in a knifing incident.

It’s not the most believable of plots on which to hang a show but it is sufficient to keep things moving, although it’s really the music and dancing and the occasional appearances by Ray Davies that give the show its impetus. An energetic cast pitch-in with some great musical items imbued with wistful nostalgia for 1950s’ London. There are strong performances from Gemma Salter, Katherine James and Katey Munroe as the sisters, Samantha Hughes as their mum, Alasdair Harvey as Frankie and Delroy Atkinson as Hamilton. Wendy Mae Brown is just brilliant as soul singer Rita. The band under Robert Hyman contributes enormously to the success of the show and, if we don’t get too much of Ray Davies, his occasional presence gives it a seal of authenticity. The evocation of the Ilford Palais and the costumes of the day also reek of authenticity and, as a member of the audience, you can use the bar that is part of the production or sit in ringside cabaret seats in the front row, just to complete the illusion.

“Come dancing” is a feel-good show and in the resent climate would do much to cheer up the West End theatre scene. Over the years several shows have moved from E15 to W1 with no trouble at all. “Come dancing” could well be another.

  • Come Dancing plays at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East until Saturday 25 October 2008
  • Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m., matinee Saturday at 3 p.m.
  • Tickets on 020 8534 0310 or link below
  • Stratford East

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