The story of Kidderminster legends Frank and Wynn Freeman and how they got the town dancing opened as a play last night in the town where it all began. As people gathered into the theatre to take their seats, there was a sense of magic in the air as we were whisked back to 1956 when Frank and Wynn pursued their life-long ambition to open The Dancing Club.
Scattered amongst the audience were the people who inspired this story. Anxiously waiting outside the theatre was Pig, the regular DJ at the club who was nervously excited to see himself portrayed on stage. Sat in front of me was the Duchess, now 83, who was a regular dancer at the club and one of Frank’s students. She was destined for great success until she was struck with TB, and Frank ran a regular raffle to pay for her medical needs. Making a full recovery, she stayed on at the school to become one of the dance teachers.
These are just a few of the lives that were touched by Frank and Wynn, and once stepping into the room it was clear that there was a real sense of community created by the people who came to The Dancing Club, which is still felt today. With the tittering of chatter when people recognised their friends being portrayed on stage, or the sigh of nostalgia when they remembered a particular dance, the significance of the club on people’s lives became evident. Evolving with the trends teaching everything from ballroom to jive, northern soul, rock and roll and even disco, the club attracted many famous bands and famous faces across the years, putting its name on the map.
It is clear writer and director of the show Caroline Jester was a former dance pupil of Frank and Wynn’s because the show is full of so much heart. After interviewing over 100 Kidderminster residents, Jester has handpicked beautiful true stories that shaped the core of The Dancing Club and its message. With a simple backdrop and minimalist set, it allowed the production to focus on both the music and dialogue to carry the storytelling.
Taking on the role of legends Frank and Wynn Freeman are Mark Jardine and Ali Belbin. It’s safe to say their relationship was a tricky one, as they struggled to see eye-eye in the daily runnings of things. Despite petty arguments and Wynn’s stubbornness towards Frank’s wild ideas, it was always dance that brought them back together. Jester has carved these characters well by striking the perfect balance between their personal strengths and flaws which made them a full-bodied character that felt real. Their striking dialogue is interjected with gorgeous, fluid dance that brings a perfect stillness to the piece and a gorgeous chemistry.
Emma Clayton and Laurence Saunders portray the numerous other characters whose lives were touched by Frank and Wynn. Clayton is mesmerising as she effortlessly slips into different roles, taking on a multitude of emotions. Her stage presence is remarkable as she grips the attention of every single member of the audience with her dialogue, creating an authentic connection. Alongside her natural characterisation is the phenomenal way she moves her body when dancing and gliding across the stage.
Equally, Saunders’ charisma shines through his characters and he brings a real sincere tone with an edge of wit into his roles. The most touching role is probably Basil Bailey, as Saunders tells the story of Frank’s final moments through his eyes.
The Dancing Club is a poignant, funny and charming story that is crafted into a production that shines a light on an extraordinary true story that changed many people’s lives. Caroline Jester’s heart-warming play allows you to invest wholeheartedly into the story whether you were personally connected to The Dancing Club or not, and it shapes into a truly special night at the theatre.
Currently touring the Midlands, tickets and information for The Dancing Club can be found online here.