Widow’s tale offers moving comedy and first-rate dances at Arundel Festival

6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks. Picture by Rosey Purchase
6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks. Picture by Rosey Purchase

This year’s Arundel Festival sees the return of Richard Alfieri’s 6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks to the Arundel Jailhouse.

Collin Baxter, who runs the venue, will take to the stage once again, alongside Anah Ruddin, in a piece he promises will have you laughing out loud one moment and then reaching for the tissues the next.

6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks. Picture by Rosey Purchase

6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks. Picture by Rosey Purchase

The show returns to Arundel from August 22-27 and then on August 30.

“Last year we did five performances,” Collin said. “This year we are doing seven. It sold out last year, and lots of people couldn’t get tickets, and lots of people came twice.

“I suppose it is a bit of a gamble for me. We will either get people saying ‘Well, it was on last year’ or people saying ‘Great! It’s back!’ I am hoping for the latter! I am hoping word will spread.

“It’s all set in a widow’s apartment in Florida. She hires a dance instructor to have private ballroom-dance lessons. I am playing the dance instructor, obviously! I am not playing the widow!

“And I turn up for the first lessons. The widow comes across as seemingly straight-laced, the conservative widow of a South Carolina Baptist minister, and I am an in-your-face guy. I have certain social issues! I have a very strong sense of humour that can rub people up the wrong way. He comes in and makes himself at home and cracks crude jokes. He treats her as his equal, this respectable lady who thinks he really ought to be very polite. But he treats her like he would his mate. She doesn’t like that at all. She wants him out of the house! And so he panics because he needs the money. He tells her his wife is ill and this is the only job he has got. She falls for it…

“Each act ends with me teaching a dance, and then we do the dance. The dances are fantastic. The music is fantastic.

“It is great laugh-out-loud stuff, but you also want to grab a tissue. It has got both! I like plays like that, plays that are funny but are also very poignant.

“It is beautifully written, and you realise these two unlikely characters have both got more in common than they realise. They are both very lonely. They have both suffered loss. They both heal each other…

“We did it together the first time at the English Theatre in Hamburg in 2009, me and the same actress… though we have got a different score now.”

And it’s fairly demanding stuff. Dances include the tango, swing, the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha-cha and rock ‘n’ roll.

“But I just love it. I can dance because I was in a boy band, and you had to do that. Ballroom dance, I had no experience. It was three weeks’ very intensive rehearsals. I can’t get away with just looking OK. I am supposed to be a dance instructor. I have got to look good, so it was very intensive rehearsals in Hamburg the first time.

“When we did it at the English Theatre, it was a big stage, and we had bay windows at the back. They did a lot of lighting for the sun setting. I was thinking ‘How on earth can we do it in an old dungeon?’ But we did! The Jailhouse works for many people because it is so intimate. It feels like you are sitting in the room with them. It feels like a fantasy, but actually you feel you are there with them!”

Doors: 7.30pm. Tickets: £9 for members and £10 for non-members.

Visit www.arundelfestival.co.uk.

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