Versatile Brendan Cole Bonds With His Audience in Thrilling Dance Show

Brendan Cole’s Licence To Thrill: Brendan Cole, Fauve Hautot, dancers and musicians. Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, Essex, 17.2.2013. (JPr)

License to Thrill

Firstly I must praise the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend; it is apparently the largest purpose-built performing arts venue in Essex. On a promontory overlooking the sea it has a certain steely-grey stateliness – and especially when you are inside – its facilities suggests you are in a modern cruise ship. Though its name suggests a Victorian seaside theatre, possibly at the end of a pier, that itself – and the entertainment it provides – have seen better days; you cannot be further from the truth. With a full calendar of entertainment including its popular pantomime, symphony orchestras, opera, ballet, comedy, West End musicals, plays and some of the world’s greatest headline acts, there is something for everyone. I am occasionally there because I live locally and have always found something to enjoy in what I have seen.

I mentioned recently in a related review how BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and all its various international versions has played a tremendous part in making ballroom and Latin forms of dance so popular again. On cold winter Saturday nights there is always something comforting in being transported back to another less cynical time by its variety show atmosphere, slick production values, stunning – and often very revealing – costumes, all the glitz and glamour. Each year just after Christmas the real stars of Strictly, the talented dancers, have West End seasons or tour the breadth of the UK in their own spinoff shows. The arena tour maybe over, but Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace are reprising Midnight Tango (soon to come to the Cliffs), Anton du Beke and Erin Boag Go To Hollywood around the country, next month there is Burn The Floor with Robin Windsor and Kristina Rihanoff and later this year the Cliffs will also see Craig Revel Horwood’s Strictly Confidential. Are producers in danger of ‘killing the golden egg’? It seems not, as the popularity of Strictly has never been greater and, of course, these show will only be put on as long as people keep coming back for more. They are, as evidenced by Brendan Cole’s Licence To Thrill that arrived here at the Cliffs about two-thirds the way through his fifth tour and drew an enthusiastic capacity Sunday afternoon audience with an evening show to follow.

Whereas Midnight Tango aims for a degree of sophistication with an evening of almost pure dance, Licence To Thrill’s strength lies in the natural simplicity of its presentation. It is everything Strictly Come Dancing fans ask for without the TV version’s engineered standing ovations, obsession with minor celebrities and forced bonhomie from the judges. Also for those who could pay to see the same thing in those hanger-like arenas, it has a much more intimate feeling about everything.

If the last Bond film, Skyfall, cashed in on all the post-Olympic patriotic euphoria to become a box office smash hit, unashamedly Brendan Cole’s show cashes-in itself on this Bond phenomenon. Truth-be-told there is very little seen about 007 apart from some tuxedos, poses and a couple of theme tunes plus other snatches of the music from that long-running franchise. Basically what Brendan and his troupe give us is a scintillating dance extravaganza full of our Latin and ballroom favourites from the Strictly Come Dancing ‘parent’ show. There is a wonderful big band sound from musical director, Barry Robinson, and his twelve accomplished musicians and two outstanding vocalists, Iain Mackenzie and Julie Maguire.

As choreographer and producer Brendan Cole enters and is firmly centre stage as he swivels his hips with his back to the audience during Earth, Wind and Fire’s Boogie Wonderland and his lower extremities barely stop gyrating throughout the next two-and-a-half hours. It is full of dance including – to use familiar Strictly adjectives – after this opening Cha Cha Cha, a ‘sexy Samba’, a ‘raunchy Rumba’, and a ‘steamy Argentine Tango’. The songs include The Impossible Dream, Save the Last Dance (that Brendan himself sings quite pleasantly), The Way You Look Tonight, Girl from Ipanema, amongst other (modern) dance standards, and of course, License To Kill.

It is undoubtedly Brendan Cole’s show and he genially acts as compere engaging a willing audience in the proceedings. It is predominately a female audience and they shriek at any hip-swivel or innuendo about not having a gun on him. To be honest there is much muttering of ‘He does nothing for me’ from many a man who has been dragged along, but even they seemed to be won over as the show came to a wonderfully upbeat conclusion with a rampant Jive to Footloose. There is even a session where he answers questions from the audience and his quick wit and charm clearly indicates his ‘bad boy image’ is a thing of the past. Well … apart from the fact that it is clear that his dance partnership with singer Lulu was not a career high and earlier Brendan even stops Barry Robinson, leading the band from the piano, playing Man With The Golden Gun joking that she has never sung anything of his! It was interesting to know about all the jobs he did as a young dancer that included making dresses and it is clear his ‘eye for such things’ extended to the flesh-revealing costumes for his three female dancers.

What was evident is that Brendan Cole’s new-found contentment comes from his wife Zoe and new daughter, Aurelia that is clearly the love of his life – he even expressed his joy of changing her nappy! Scott Cole (his elder brother), Crystal Main. Patrick Helm and Melanie Hooper then performed the American smooth he choreographed on the night of her birth on Christmas Day, named Aurelia’s American Smooth, which had an exquisite elegance. These dancers were absolutely wonderful in their own right in the various choreographic styles demanded of them. They contributed wonderfully to a dizzying Quickstep, Paso Doble ‘cloak off’ competition for boys followed by a ‘Girls v Boys’ dance-off involving sultry steps reminiscent of the work of Bob Fosse. To everyone’s credit it was exceptional how well they adapted to the restricted depth to the stage at the Cliffs and the slight rake Brendan told the audience about that made balances tricky.

The four accompanying dancers were outshone by Cole and his partner Fauve Hautot from the French version of Strictly who were a class apart. She was an absolute delight and did everything asked of her with athleticism, a polished professionalism and an endearing beaming smile. Their dreamily romantic Viennese Waltz was one of the show’s highlights. As an ensemble all six dancers never let the energy level of their dancing drop at any point and were thoroughly committed, enthusiastic and the sheer sense of enjoyment they displayed clearly spilled over to the audience most of whom were on their feet at the end giving clear evidence that there is no reason to revoke Brendan Cole’s licence to thrill just yet!

Jim Pritchard