Kiss Me Quickstep comes to Eastbourne next month, a brand new production centred on a ballroom dancing competition. Quite simply, it is what Eastbourne’s Winter Garden was built for.
Theatre directors always need to balance exciting, imaginative projects against the practical challenges and headaches of bringing them to reality. Inspiration and perspiration, so to speak.
Well, there might be sweat and tears in store later but, for the moment, Theresa Heskins is only inspired. The director of Kiss Me Quickstep is down for a planning meeting with Chris Jordan, and she has just stepped into Eastbourne’s Winter Garden for the first time. “We opened at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme – in wet and cold February – and we have played The Stephen Joseph in Scarborough and the Oldham Coliseum. But now I think coming here to the Winter Garden will cap the lot. The play could literally have been written with this venue in mind.
“The action is actually set in Blackpool, based around their legendary annual dance competitions. But in the other venues our designer Dawn Allsop has been bringing her set of pics with her from the Blackpool Grand Ballroom, and working hard to re-create that venue. Here we have the perfect setting already waiting for us.
“In Oldham we had to run the show end-on (using a conventional proscenium stage), but we have planned and rehearsed for exactly this Winter Garden space. It needs to be in the round, like an actual dance competition, and the actors relish that special closeness to the audience.”
Chris Jordan made the long drive to Newcastle-under-Lyme, for a Saturday matinee, and convinced Theresa into making the return journey south. And the more you consider it, the more natural is the fit.
“This is the Winter Garden rediscovering a bit of its past glory. And with the Congress out of action next year, we have some exciting plans to exploit this auditorium as a working, performing space. Kiss Me Quickstep meets both objectives. It is a happy union of place and production.”
The show’s writer Amanda Whittington has the distinction of being the most-performed dramatist in Britain. As well as a high reputation in professional circles, her plays are popular with local amateur groups: character parts, entertaining storylines and just a touch of gravitas. But does this show owe just a little to the national phenomenon which is Strictly Come Dancing? Theresa Heskins is unapologetic. “Absolutely: it captures this swell of reborn enthusiasm for dance. And what Strictly has done is to unite the generations: you can be eight years old or eighty-eight. Kiss Me Quickstep binds all that excitement and spectacle into a piece of drama with a strong story.”
Tears beneath the mascara, then, and trip-ups behind the tripping dance routines? “It has a little bit of everything. It’s the story of a whole clutch of contestants at the Blackpool competition, from the champions to the perennial losers: their dreams, their ambitions, their romances and squabbles, tears and laughter. There are fabulous costumes and, of course, highly professional dance routines.”
Incidentally, the show also involves keen local dancers – of all ages – to appear as extras. “We have a brilliant finale,” adds Theresa, “and we get the whole company dancing together. The extras have a blast.” It’s that Strictly feel again, crossing the generations. A few extras slots are still available, call 01323 415508 for details. Kiss Me Quickstep runs from July 29 - August 18. By Kevin Anderson.