Rip It Up – The 60s at the Garrick Theatre: ‘crowd-pleasing entertainment with a heart of gold’

Sarah Gibbs, London Student’s own Lustful Critic, reviews a tender homage to the music of the 1960s.

When my editor forwarded the review assignment for Rip It Up—The 60s, he added a note above the signature line: “I think the men get topless at one point—sounds like your sort of thing.” It appears I should change my byline to the Lustful Critic. Gareth Walker’s singing-and-dancing, Strictly-celeb-studded ode to the 60s is a high-energy—if overly long—romp through the decade. It is hammy, crowd-pleasing entertainment with a heart of gold. 

The cynic would describe the Rip It Up series as the place where former Strictly Come Dancing champions are put out to pasture. The current iteration features Mirror Ball winners Aston Merrygold and Jay McGuiness of pop bands JLS and The Wanted, respectively, McFly drummer Harry Judd, and Olympic gymnast Louis Smith MBE. Such cynicism, however, would be unjust, given the sheer athleticism on display. Along with seven female professionals, the lads waltz, jive, and quickstep through medleys of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and umpteen Motown greats. Vocalists Jill Marie Cooper and Sam Hosier ably tackle tunes from the Beach Boys, Tina Turner, and Burt Bacharach, with occasional assists from Merrygold and McGuiness. The costume changes are dizzying. Or perhaps I should write “psychedelic.” 

Impressed though I was with the gents’ high-kicking, I would have loved to know more about their female partners. McGuiness in particular took time to loosen up, and his initial one-on-one dance recalled early series Strictly episodes when the super-humanly limber professional dances around an inert pop star/footballer/terrified BBC presenter. The 60s television programme frame also adds unnecessary camp. The superstar “interviews” given to camera verge on painful. All the Strictly alums are far better when off-script. Before the final segment, the now very sweaty blokes asked the audience for suggestions of what they should do next. Responses of “Dance with tops off!” and simply “Naked!” proved I was far from the randiest person in the crowd. 

‘Responses of “Dance with tops off!” and simply “Naked!” proved I was far from the randiest person in the crowd.’

Speaking of abs, I was more confused than aroused. Despite spending his professional life sitting behind a kit, and competing against an Olympian, drummer Judd somehow wins the battle of the male torsos. None of them, however, can compete with the ladies. One dancer’s eight-pack suggests she has in fact stolen a few abs from someone else. 

The show is at least thirty minutes too long. As the final curtain approached, I felt inordinate pressure. What amount of applause could be commensurate to this degree of exertion? I’m not an athlete. Besides, I was already exhausted from all the clap-along numbers. As well, encouraging people to take photos and video the show admits the sort of philistinism usually absent from the theatre. The man next to me texted throughout the performance, and exhibited the body language of a husband abandoned outside the fitting room of a ladies’ clothing store. The woman in front of him had to tell him to stop resting his head against her seat. 

Rip It Up—The 60s is not a show for the critics. It is for the people who were dancing in the aisles by the final number. Eager, rather than subtle, and massively overstuffed, it more than fulfills its brief. Even when the tops stay on.

4/5

Rip It Up – The 60s is at the Garrick Theatre until the 6th June, 2019.


Sarah Gibbs is a graduate student pursuing a PhD in English Literature at University College London (UCL). Her writing has appeared in Descant, Filling Station, and Novelty magazines.

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