Review – The Last Tango, Derngate, Northampton, 21st March 2016

The Last TangoThe last time we saw Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, in Midnight Tango, the show reminded us so strongly of our (then) recent visit to Argentina, as it was full of drama and excitement, edgy sensuality, dynamic rhythms, and powerful storylines told through the medium of dance. When you walk the streets of Buenos Aires, Tango can just emerge on a street-corner; a young couple will commandeer an area of pavement, place a ghetto blaster on the floor, turn it on and suddenly busk the most extraordinarily passionate dancing for the hope of earning some passing pesos. How much more thrilling than in the UK where it’s probably an old bloke with a penny whistle and a cap. Mrs Chrisparkle and I adored Midnight Tango; in its own way it was as exciting as the best contemporary dance or classical ballet.

Vincent and FlaviaWe missed Vincent and Flavia’s next show, Dance ‘til Dawn, but thought we should catch The Last Tango as, indeed, it is meant to be their Last Tango. After this show they have resolved to hang up their stage dance shoes for ever – maybe to move into the world of film, as Vincent suggests in the programme. In their programme interview, they point out that they have always wanted to give each of their shows a very different theme and atmosphere. They didn’t want to bore their audiences by churning out the same old thing every time. A laudable aim. The very romantic story thread for this show is an older guy sitting in his attic, sorting through old stuff, some of which he can keep, some of which he can’t. As he finds old items, toys, clothes, papers, they remind him of his younger days, and as he daydreams, the cast dance out his memories. Vincent plays the man in his younger days – a very knowing greeting to each other through a full length mirror makes that clear – and Flavia his lady; and you can tell from the very start that the absence of an older lady also rummaging through the attic means this isn’t going to end happily for her.

Last Tango in NorthamptonThe dance sequences take you through the life of the younger couple – from meeting, and early dates, through marriage and his being called up in the army (for World War II you sense, although the time sequence is muddy, more of which later); his return, their settling down in a house and having a family, a 40th birthday party and so on. And if you’re waiting for this last tango; it comes right at the end after the initial curtain call.

Wedding danceThere’s a lot of good about this show but a few frustrations too. It looks great. It’s an intriguing and versatile set; Vicky Gill’s costumes are terrific (Flavia in particular looks absolutely stunning the whole night long), and Steve Geere’s orchestra, nestling in the pit in front of the stage in the most traditional manner, are on brilliant form, giving us fantastic renditions of thirty, mainly familiar, songs. Matthew Gent and Rebecca Lisewski sing with passion and style – I particularly liked the way Beyond The Sea segued into Moondance, very classy – and the ensemble work wonderfully well together, filling the stage with lively and entertaining dance sequences. You’ve also got the marvellous Mr Teddy Kempner. I always feel happy when I open a programme to discover Mr Kempner’s in the cast. I first saw him back in 1984 in Snoopy the Musical and I feel like he and I have grown up together through the years. He’s playing the older guy, pootling around his attic, making wry comments about jackets that don’t fit anymore and doing a great line in vocalising surprise discoveries.

Flavia and VincentWhich brings us to Mr Simone and Ms Cacace themselves, who, of course, are still sensational. They can turn their hand (feet?) to any style you choose, and in this show we get the full range of ballroom and Latin dances, not just the Tango/Argentine Tango. I found the scene just before the interval, where the young man receives his calling-up papers (I loved the idea of using the papers as an interface between foot and floor) very moving, not only because of the beautiful dance itself but also the expressions of the dancers: Vincent in abject dismay and Flavia in almost uncontrollable weeping. Mrs C was not so moved by this: “well you know he’s going to come back alright; you can see him up there in the attic”. True enough. Another really enjoyable routine was the jive to (not inappropriately) Jump Jive an’ Wail, which earned one of the best receptions of the night.

Last Tango the girlsIt was a shame that they didn’t sequence the dances more in keeping with the progress of the years, which would have been helpful for understanding the timeline of the story. When the couple take delivery of their incredibly old-fashioned sofa and chair, bedecked with ancient anti-Macassars, I recognised them from my Great Aunt’s home circa 1966 – and they were old then. A little Rock’n’Roll dancing, maybe, wouldn’t have gone amiss at that point to pin the era down. That said, I really did love the rumba that Vincent and Flavia danced near the end, as if she were beyond the grave, and that last, last tango was incredible. And on reflection, that was also part of the frustration. It was such a perfectly executed, intricate, stirring dance, the type that makes you gasp in awe and wonderment; and we couldn’t help but think it would have been great to have seen more of it earlier in the show. Yes, there were other Argentine Tango routines, but none of them half as exciting as that final dance. They certainly saved the best till last.

Last Tango boys and girlsIt’s a very attractive show, and there’s barely a moment without some enjoyable dancing to watch. But for us it lacked just a little of the bite – and certainly the humour – of Midnight Tango. Just a little more vanilla than we would have preferred. But it’s all a question of taste. The audience loved it, and why not? The tour continues through to July. This might be your last chance of seeing Vincent and Flavia live!

Production photos by Manuel Harlan