Review – Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks

Wednesday 13 December 2006

sixdancelessons.jpgTo answer a question that’s been puzzling some people: no, the West End Whingers do not agree on everything. Even so, it comes as some surprise that their first major schism should be caused by such an uncontroversial, inoffensive piece as Richard Alfieri’s play Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, currently playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

Following almost universal scathing reviews* WEW were moist at the prospect of seeing yet another truly dreadful production.

Billy Zane (no stranger to sentimental pap, having been in Titanic) plays gay dance instructor Michael who is engaged to give six dance lessons in six weeks to ageing Baptist minister’s wife Lily (Claire Bloom) in her Florida condo.

It sounds like a promising premise for a light comedy and the publicity claims “you’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll cha-cha-cha”. Well, Phil wasn’t laughing; the only tears he shed were as he begged to be allowed to leave in the interval; and his only dancing is likely to be on the grave of this ill-fated production (booking until March but there were only a smattering of people in the audience, so we shall see…)

Andrew, on the other hand, did laugh on several occasions. And while he may not have been moved to tears, or dancing in the aisles, he did bestow one of his highest accolades: “Well, I wasn’t bored”.

sixdancelessons-001a-copy.jpgPoor Claire Bloom (who, we have been asked to point out, was in the excellent 1963 horror film, The Haunting). She’s still luminous but is miscast here, struggling with a southern accent and on stage props. It’s left to Billy Zane in his West End debut (thankfully underplaying the camp) to keep this sinking ship afloat.

Each scene follows the same dreary path. Lily answers the door to Michael, they chat, they row, they make up, they dance, Lily answers the phone. It’s a very bad sit-com. Apparently it’s been hugely popular around the world and is going to be made into a movie. God help us all.

The direction’s terrible, the design is terrible, resembling a GMTV set knocked together from left-over pieces of MDF. A chair (which presumably they’d forgotten to put on at the start of the play) mysteriously appeared after the first scene in one of the protracted scene changes. We say “changes”, the set remains the same throughout while two figures rearrange props in the dark making it appear that Lily’s flat is being burgled. Phil was particularly concerned that Lily never seems to wash up as her cutlery remains in the same position in the drainer throughout the six weeks that pass.

Sloppy indeed. But not as sloppy as the Theatre Royal cleaners. The whingers were thrilled to see that they hadn’t bothered to hoover under the sofa leaving a huge pile of fluff among Bloom’s dropped lines.

And £4 for a programme? Andrew – in a rare moment of mathematical lucidity – noted that for a two-hander that works out at £2 per biography. It also contains a couple of dull articles about American dance teacher Arthur Murray and Florida which are printed in such tiny type most of the Haymarket’s elderly audience won’t be able to read. £4 for a tiny glass of wine too. Outrageous.

* A taste of the critical reception:

  • “It is mercifully not often that you get to see a play in the West End as remorselessly terrible… we are left staring in open-mouthed astonishment at a train wreck of an evening” Sheridan Morley in the Daily Express
  • “Alfieri’s lame writing gives them so little to work with… This play is tooth-rottingly sweet right through to its sickly soft centre. And whatever steps Zane and Bloom essay, it, and the production, remain irretrievably flatfooted.” Sam Marlowe in the Times
  • “Terpsichorean taradiddle” Michael Billington in The Guardian

5 Responses to “Review – Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks”

  1. Kath Says:

    Oh whingers – have you no heart?

    I was in the merry ensemble that went to see Six Dance Lessons last night – and it’s true that the writing could be better. I thought the actors were great though and there was definitely some chemistry between them. And the bit the whingers have omitted is how entertaining the dancing and the soundtrack were….

    though of course the Whingers may have higher standards than some of us… Andrew being an accomplished Latin/ Ballroom leader.

    Phil – I would like to call you a Philistine but yup the script could have been better. I don’t know luv, it brought a tear to my eye but no doubt I’m a softie compared to the granite-hearted duo that is WEW.


  2. No Kath. We have no heart. We should be producers really.

  3. Well I am left open mouthed at the review posting of “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” – I loved it! Sorry guys but I did! If you’ve ever tried the foxtrot, you’ll be impressed at Claire and Billy’s fantastic dancing – not only the foxtrot, but also the waltz and of course the tango! They showed great dancing talent although Claire looked as though she was about to have a fit of the giggles from time to time! I have to stick up for Richard Alfieri. As a fellow scribe, I thought his play was cleverly constructed and skilfully revealed the characters and their secrets as their relationship developed over the course of lessons. I didn’t like the ending – too predictable – but you can’t have everything!

  4. Yes, that’s all very well Jackie, but don’t you agree they should sweep under the furniture from time to time? Get with the programme.

  5. westendwhinger Says:

    Glad you all enjoyed it..presumably you dont get out too much?
    Thought the acting was pretty bad from Bloom, she’s incredibly experienced for god sake, was uncertain and ill cast, sub Golden Girls script with an outcome signposted from scene one, repetitive, sentimental, and the “plot twist” too corny for words.When the highlight is finding fluff balls under the furniture something has to be wrong. I’m a big old softie too beneath this gruff exterior but the only tears were from coming back after the interval.

    Kath – I agree with you about the use of music, though using “The Best Is Yet To Come” was perhaps tempting providence.

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