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Craig Revel Horwood smiling in a black tuxedo with his arms folded in front of a glitterball

Interview with Craig Revel Horwood and Jason Gilkison

As Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom The Musical steps out on its first-ever UK tour, the show’s director and co-choreographer Craig Revel Horwood promises: “Audiences are in for a night of laughter and comedy, with an insight into the ballroom world. It’s a glimpse backstage, which is very different to the smiles when dancers are performing.”

Written by Ellen Carnazza


Adapted for the stage from the 1992 film by creators Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, the musical revolves around rebellious Australian dancer Scott Hastings, who causes a commotion with his radical moves and raises eyebrows when he opts to dance with absolute beginner Fran.

Craig feels audiences are drawn to the story because of the insight it offers into the world of ballroom dancing and how passionate the dancers are. “You’ve got all this fantastic dancing and the characters are sometimes dark and twisted, which makes for good comedy. It’s about two people who are at the same point in their lives when they meet and it’s almost a Romeo and Juliet-style tale of two people from different gangs, without the tragic ending of course. Fran is from a very religious Spanish family whose dance tradition is flamenco and Scott is from the ballroom world. He’s trying to break out from the constrictions of that and Fran is trying to break out from her regime. They’re a young couple who want to do dance in their own way.

Co-choreographer Jason Gilkison, who is Creative Director on Strictly Come Dancing, agrees. “It’s about two people coming together to achieve something incredible. They find a common denominator and a common ground, and eventually they fall in love. The world of competitive ballroom dancing can be quite vicious and cutthroat, which you also see in the show, but we see Scott and Fran rising above all that.”

When he first saw the hugely successful Strictly Ballroom film on its release in 1992, Craig Revel Horwood felt nostalgic for his homeland. Having left Australia in 1988 to forge a career in the UK, the dancer, choreographer, actor and Strictly Come Dancing judge says: “I hadn’t really been home since leaving and when I saw the movie it made me feel really homesick. I absolutely loved it and it’s become one of those go-to films that I watch every Christmas. It cheers me up.”

He saw the stage version first in Sydney then later in London and thought, “I’d love to get my hands on it’ so when the opportunity came up to direct it I didn’t hesitate. I’m passionate about all kinds of dance and this show is the perfect vehicle for me to explore that.”

The film and show have even more resonance for Jason. When Luhrmann was preparing to direct his first feature he loosely based the characters of Scott and Fran on Jason and his dance partner Peta Robey. “We were rule-breakers ourselves,” the former Australian Latin champion recalls. “Baz had lots of questions about our attitude towards the industry, the industry’s attitude towards us, what it was like coming from dancing families and lots of stuff like that.”

A portrait of Craig Revel Horwood in a pink suit

Jason continues: “I did loads and loads of interviews with Baz leading up to the making of the movie. It was great to see my life story inspire him as he cut his teeth in the film industry on a movie – a low-budget, little ballroom movie – that would go on to bring him great success. It was lovely to be a part of that in some way. We’ve met from time to time since then and it’s fantastic seeing where his career has gone since then.”

Gilkison and Revel Horwood have worked together on the Strictly live tours but this is the first time they’ve collaborated on a full-blown musical. “It’s fantastic,” Craig says. “He’ll throw an idea onto the table and vice versa. We work harmoniously together. He’s very open-minded and creative.”

And it’s a dream job for Jason, who says: “I’ve always been involved in ballroom dancing and I’ve been involved with Strictly Come Dancing now for ten years. I was in the dancing competition world for ages before that and I’ve known Craig for a long time. It’s all my worlds coming together at once.”

Dancers in brightly coloured costumes in front of a blue backdrop

Strictly Ballroom Cast. Credit Ellie Kurttz.

A man and woman in a ballroom dance hold with backing dances around them

Agnes Pure and Kevin Clifton in Strictly Ballroom. Credit Ellie Kurttz.

Dancers in a pink-lit ballroom

Strictly Ballroom Cast. Credit Ellie Kurttz.

Strictly Ballroom The Musical features such familiar songs as Love is in the Air and Time After Time as well as new music from artists including Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect, with Revel Horwood saying: “You’re going to see huge dance numbers and fantastic duets, with tunes that people know and love, as well as new music written specifically for the show which is equally brilliant. It’s mixing the old and the new.

The new production features a cast of more than 20 world-class performers. “And they’re all triple-threats,” Gilkison marvels. “It was such an exciting audition process and the cast cover such varied ages. It’s really interesting doing the show in this country. Because of Strictly on television people know what a good paso doble, waltz or foxtrot should look like. There’s this knowledge of what ballroom dancing is so it’s important for us to do it justice. When there’s a dance competition in the show it has to be incredible and when Scott and Fran do the paso doble at the end it has to be among the best we’ve ever seen.”

People perhaps didn’t understand the world of ballroom dancing when the film came out,” Revel Horwood adds. “Since the advent of Strictly Come Dancing they get what it’s all about. They realise that it’s full of very strict rules that the dancers all have to adhere to but Scott wants to break those rules, just as Fran wants to break the rules of flamenco. When they come together they also end up falling in love. That’s what makes it such a compelling and uplifting show.

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