The Aldwych Theatre - Haven't They Done Well?

To the Aldwych this last week for a performance of Midnight Tango, but immediately thinking of having gone to the RSC production years back, in the same venue, of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby.

Aldwych Theatre - Midnight Tango

Quite a few years back. The performance opened on 5th June 1980, and I saw it in the summer of that year. To borrow momentarily from Bleak House, a megalosaurus of a production, running eight hours in an adaptation by David Edgar, but split into two four-hour performances.

Dedication to the spectacle required a commitment of Wagnerian proportions, but despite some views by the critics that the production was overweight, the audiences loved it.

And it is the acting performances that get remembered: those included as Nicholas, Roger Rees, as the clean-cut young man who today could be Eddie Redmayne just having walked off the set of My Week with Marilyn, John Woodvine as a brooding Ralph Nickelby, Suzanne Bertish as the shrewish Fanny Squeers, an inch away from one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, and a young Timothy Spall as Wackford Squeers Junior.

But the performance I remember was from he who today is best known as playing Frank Gallagher in Channel 4’s Shameless. David Threlfall was 26 when the show opened, having graduated from Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama.

The work of Dickens may be dismissed as being at times sentimental and melodramatic, but no one in the audience could distance themselves from Threlfall’s shambling and stuttering Smike, limping around the stage and being overcome by the first sign of warmth and love that he had ever seen.

Shambling and stuttering could hardly describe the cast of Midnight Tango, the show of the eponymous dance, choreographed and led by Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace. But in a funny way there is an arguable parallel; the material from both productions could be dismissed as pap for the masses and below the high-minded.

Yet although it is almost impossible to see the protagonists perform without hearing the piercing tones of Sir Bruce Forsyth welcoming them on to the Strictly dance floor, it has to be said that this is a compact, well-constructed and entertaining show.

There is only so much Argentinean kicking of leg between legs of other partner that can be taken – I would hate to be the male dancer who had annoyed the female partner and risked the kick going a touch too high – but the dancers are stylish, and the violin/accordion combination, reprising pieces including from Astor Piazzolla, underscores the mood.

What stood out though, in a loosely constructed narrative, were some individual items: a Vincent and Flavia “Pas de Deux”, a fight scene of West Side Story proportions, and the development of the relationship between the bartender and his wife. The latter two started as corpulent slob and harridan counterpart, but this evolved into a relationship of love and tenderness, ending with their own restrained but affectionate tango.

Tugging at the emotional heartstrings. One should not tug and strain to link the two shows, but in their own way they have each done the business in the eclectic world of London’s theatreland.

The author is a qualified City of London, City of Westminster and National Trust Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for details.