Dirty Dancing at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Watching the first night of the Dirty Dancing musical at the Aylesbury Waterside last night was almost exactly like watching the movie (which is no bad thing, let’s face it), but with added hysteria and dangerously high oestrogen emissions. Put ten Dreamboys concerts back to back and raise the age of the audience by twenty years and you’re getting the idea.
The script, intonation, movements, dancing, even Baby’s hair for Chrissakes, were doppelgangers for the original which made the theatre experience a very comfortable, almost kitsch experience. It meant that what the production lost occasionally in dramatic intensity because of its utter familiarity, it made up for in other ways. So when Johnny strutted up from the back of the auditorium in his black leathers to pronounce ‘No-one puts Baby in the corner’ there was an almost panto-like cheer. Everyone was in it together.
No need to go over the plot of course, but I can tell you that the dancing was phenomenal, right down to that last scene where Lewis Griffiths (ex Jersey Boys) who played Johnny did the ‘lift’ and the roof blew off the auditorium. Carli Milner as Penny was a brilliant dancer (looks like she was a ballet dancer originally from her credits), and was a very good actress too, the singers and musicians were tight, and Lewis Griffiths’ Johnny had the swagger and sexois necessary for the part, right down to his buttocks that, frankly, deserved their own speaking part. I say this with authority because in the morning bedroom scene when Johnny pulls his trousers on, Lewis is wearing an (entirely unnecessary) bum-revealing jock strap that ellicited squeals and whoops from the audience. I’m sorry about my mother Lewis, I don’t know what came over her.
What wasn‘t to like? Well, there’s not much to fault. Lizzie Ottley playing Lisa played a blinder and won one of the biggest cheers of the night and Simon Campbell who played Billy sang In the Still of the Night beautifully, again sending cheers up to the rafters. The set was clever, with a staircase that showed Baby going into the staff quarters in one door, then the set spinning to send her down another set of stairs into a different scene. Occasionally the mechanism literally groaned, and once I it looked like it stopped working altogether and the actors had to push it around, but this is theatre darling and it’s half the fun.
If I was to make a tiny complaint it might be that the bedroom scene when Johnny and Baby got it together seemed to go on forever – awkward when you’re sitting next to your mum, even as an adult, but then perhaps I’m just horrifically repressed. Also what seemed erotic in a film edit just looked a bit funny in the flesh, with baby dangling upside down in her bra and then gratefully gripping Johnny around his waist with her legs like a fuzzy-bob haired koala.
No-one can match Patrick Swayze in this role, and it’s true that Griffiths had none of his vulnerability or nuance as Johnnny, but you have to hand it to the guy, he acted well enough, has hips that could snake through the Amazon and looks mighty fine in a little black singlet.
I looked around the auditorium and everyone was on their feet, women clapping and dancing in the balconies, a kind of frenzy descending. This was total feel-good escapism, and if you’re a Dirty Dancing fan it’s probably the safest return on investment you’ll have this year for a great night out. Book it.