Strictly Come Dancing review: Easy to forgive show’s cringeworthy moments when the dancing is magnificent

The show was on for a whopping two hours and 20 minutes, but it whizzed by in a flash

Emma Bullimore
Sunday 23 September 2018 09:47
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Danny John-Jules and Amy Dowden take to the floor on Strictly Come Dancing

Each minute of the Strictly circus is a dazzling delight, but every year we reach the point where they need to stop talking and start dancing. Tonight the class of 2018 brought the escapist razzmatazz we were all waiting for.

The show was on for a whopping two hours and 20 minutes (Mo Farah finished this year’s London Marathon in less time, for context), but it whizzed by in a flash. Choreographer Jason Gilkison set the tone with one of the most romantic pro routines of recent years to start the show – all midnight blue chiffon, fountains and effortless ease on the dance floor.

There was early excitement, when we thought we might be spared the horror of the “imaginative” VTs between dances, in favour of some straight forward training footage. Then Aljaz turned up at BBC News and the hope faded, although he’d certainly liven up Brexit coverage if Huw Edwards needs a day off.

Anyone playing Strictly bingo would have downed lots of shots with mentions of “comfort zones” and female pros being “taskmasters”, but we forgive it all because the dancing was magnificent, the judges knowledgeable and the outfits glorious.

Ashley Roberts and Faye Tozer are at the top of this week’s leaderboard, with Susannah Constantine at the bottom, but scores will be carried over to next week, when it can all change. Only when scores from the first two show are combined will we have a chance to vote.

Here’s what happened as the live shows kicked off…

Katya channels Keeley Hawes – but Seann has much to learn

Everyone’s talking about Bodyguard, so no surprise that Claudia Winkleman referenced it so early in the show. Impressive though, that reigning champion Katya, known for her ingenious choreography, created a sexy tango routine clearly inspired by the series. Much like eventual winner Joe McFadden last year, comedian Seann Walsh was announced without much fanfare. But just as she catapulted Ed Balls into the Strictly Hall of Fame with that “Gangnam Style” routine, Katya suddenly made us pay attention to Seann – she really knows how to tell a story, make the best of her partner’s skills and give us the crowd-pleasing moves we really want. In short, she’s the dream partner. Unfortunately the judges weren’t convinced by this one, but the real problem was Seann’s defensive reaction to their comments, continuing to mutter about Shirley when he reached the Clauditorium, all because she told him to tie his hair up. Many fans have jumped to his defence on social media, saying Shirley shouldn’t comment on the appearance of any of the contestants. Whether you’re Team Seann or Team Shirley, it all leaves a sour taste.

Can Graziano Di Prima and Vick Hope go all the way?

Susannah leads the fash pack as Carmen Miranda

Viewers who only tune in for the outfits won’t have been disappointed. Charles Venn in top to toe devil red, Danny John-Jules resplendent in pink and Katie Piper’s dreamy white ballgown. But it was fashion journalist Susannah Constantine and her partner Anton Du Beke who stole the headlines in blinding orange lycra. Susannah pulled off the fruity Carmen Miranda headpiece to some degree, but Anton’s samba sleeves and tight trousers would have made some viewers slightly nauseous (the maracas were a nice throwback to Julian Clary’s fab turn from the early days though). Of course it was all a smart, tried and tested move to distract from the tentative, shy samba Susannah tried to give us. She looked wildly out of her depth, without enough of the comedy that Anton can usually give us, and it probably did deserve the 1 Craig gave her…

Susannah and Anton du Beke couple up for Strictly Come Dancing 2018 'bring on the strictly curse'

The judges won’t be swayed

It’s the best judging panel on telly, and not for nothing. Tess Daly demands sycophancy from them at the best of times, but the fab four refused to bow to pressure for first night compliments. Shirley marked Seann down for an illegal lift, while Craig dismissed him for having “no style or sophistication”, and Bruno gave us his trademark smiling assassin move – tilting his head and telling people they look nice before crushing their dancing dreams. Susannah attempted to be clever with Craig but it fell flat. The contestants will hopefully learn early on that it’s always the judges who come out of those arguments on top. Best line of the night came from Bruno (obviously jumping out of his chair at the time): “He has dislocated his groin for your viewing pleasure!” he declared after Graeme Swann put on a display of immaculate hip action.

Darcey gets cross!

It all started when Tess introduced Lee Ryan and Nadiya with a wink to camera, saying how happy Lee was to be paired with his professional partner. This was a naughty allusion to the tabloid rumours that the two of them have already fallen victim to the famous Strictly curse, not particularly fair of the host considering the two of them are both in relationships, and not the first time she’s done this. Then when it came to the judging, Bruno was already tittering. Shirley was quick to linger on the word “chemistry” and by the time Darcey described one of their moves as “lustful” Bruno had dissolved into giggles, to the point where it was difficult for Dame Bussell to speak. Usually she laughs along, but not tonight. She was furious and rightly so. I think most fans would agree that it’s best to leave the curse nonsense to the papers. It’s fun to speculate on the sofa, but it demeans a classy family show to bring it in front of camera on a Saturday night. And it’s just plain awkward, although it barely seemed to register with Lee and Nadiya themselves.

It's unlikely that Nadiya Bychkova and Lee Ryan will fall victim to the famous ‘Strictly’ curse 

Ashley is unsurprisingly stunning but Faye steals the show

Despite protestations that being in the Pussycat Dolls doesn’t make you an accomplished ballroom dancer, Ashley’s Viennese waltz was predictably beautiful. It wasn’t perfect, but her ability to nail choreography and spend precious training hours perfecting final details was clear for all to see. Plus she’s partnered with Pasha, one of the show’s most successful pros, and they were dancing to Ed Sheeran’s monster hit “Perfect”. Pasha summed it up when he said, “I’m actually jealous of myself right now.” However fans are still lukewarm on Ashley, finding all that dance experience off-putting to say the least. Faye, on the other hand, is already winning everyone over with her genuine love of the show (she’s one of us, living out our dream!), and the nostalgic affection so many people have for Steps won’t harm her chances either. Plus people don’t really believe that pulling off the “Tragedy” routine makes you a professional dancer, so she’ll get away with accusations of being a ringer. Tonight most certainly belonged to Faye.

An early start for the quickstep

It’s unclear if anybody truly cares if the quickstep arrives in week one or week four, but Strictly were very keen to point out that Stacey Dooley and fan favourite Kevin Clifton were the first couple to attempt it on opening night. They gave it a good go – it was neither “fab-u-lous” nor a “dis-ah-ster” but what was altogether more important was Stacey’s first impression. She’s got girl next door charm, respect for the competition and one of the most popular professionals in the competition as her partner. There’s room for improvement, which is essential for that all-important journey and we’re all about to fall in love with her – Stacey and Kevin have everything in their favour for glitterball glory and this was a strong start.

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