Chandeliers hang over the vast space of Birmingham’s indoor arena, twinkling with fairy lights. The set design pretends to evoke a ballroom, but really represents a television studio, all lit up with Saturday night sequins.
The Strictly Come Dancing live tour is all about putting the familiar show on stage, carefully repeating favourite moments.
As on screen, the dance performances are framed by training videos and judges’ comments. There’s a panto atmosphere, with lots of shouted catchphrases from the audience, some (often surprisingly broad) innuendo.
The three judges have fun playing up their roles: Len Goodman as old school head judge, Bruno Tonioli laying it on thick as the flamboyant Italian and Craig Revel Horwood, who also directs the live show, doing his best grumpy faces as the nasty judge. The audience votes – by text, on the night, with a donation to Comic Relief for each vote.
If the judges are in character, so is everybody else. Celebrities on the reality television contest tend to talk about their “journey”, their week-by-week progress. A one-off show can’t do that; instead, it acts as an encore, a retrospective. Everybody plays the approved version of themselves: plucky underdog, judges’ darling, the one who won.
A few partnerships have been reshuffled, to allow for celebrities’ and dancers’ other commitments. Now dancing with Pasha Kovalev, actress Dani Harmer jokes that she’s trying to turn him into Vincent Simone, her on-screen partner. In fact, the new pairing may give her an edge: she still dances with bouncy charm, but reaches a little further, her lines a little longer. The live show clings to its familiar script, but it’s fun when it goes off message.
The most recent series had a strong field, with celebrities looking at home on the dance floor. There’s some exuberant shimmying from Lisa Riley, gentler ballroom from Michael Vaughan and Fern Britton. Denise Van Outen gives the most polished performance, sleek and slick in her jive and Charleston. We all know Olympic gymnast Louis Smith will win: he has a handsome face and does backflips. By tradition, Strictly now needs a comedy candidate, so cricketer Phil Tufnell joins the tour and makes jokes about his dad dancing.
The professional dancers guide their celebrity partners smoothly through routines, and come back to show off their technique in glitzy routines. Strictly’s live show is brisk and slick, avoiding surprises.
Tour continues until 10 February; www.strictlycomedancinglive.com