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Belgrade Theatre review: Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing, Belgrade Theatre, to November 6.

By Hilary Hopker

It’s over 30 years since the Dirty Dancing film became a surprise box office hit. The coming-of-age story of teen sisters on holiday with their parents in 1960s' America wasn’t obviously going to wow its late 80s' audience.

As a teenager I was drawn in by the title, watching it in the hope of some risqué action then - like so many other girls - ended up falling in love with the characters, the story line, and the amazing dancing.

Taking Dirty Dancing to the stage feels as much of a risk as the film was. The much-loved characters of Baby and Johnny are imprinted on the audience’s mind before the curtain rises, setting the bar at an impossibly high standard.

But this production delivered everything the packed-out, predominantly female audience could have hoped for. The show is all about high energy performance and spectacular dancing. Carlie Milner playing Penny Johnson was brilliant, her every dance move graceful and well executed. You expect a lot from Austin Wilkes in the lead role of Johnny Castle, and he delivers on all your expectations. No-one can ever truly match Patrick Swayze in the role and it may not be fair to draw comparisons, but Austin is a dancer of the highest calibre.

Comedy abounds too. The lake lift scene was always going to be a challenge to bring to the stage, but it is done inventively and with plenty of humour. Colin Charles is a stand-out entertainer as Tito Swarez, and Mark Faith plays Mr Schumacher with a level of comedy not seen in the original film.

The audience was waiting on the last scene, knowing how the story ends. Kira Malou, playing Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, is dragged out of the corner to centre stage. We held our breath hoping that Austin and Kira could pull off ‘the lift’ - and everyone rejoiced when it happened.

After a long lockdown this show is exactly what the audience needed. It was the perfect blend of entertainment and nostalgia. The sighs as we danced out of the aisles and on our way home were for the dance moves we never learnt, the Johnnys we never met, and for a story that has lasted the test of time, and translation to the stage.


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