Brendan Cole- Licensed to Thrill Festival Theatre

OK I’ll admit it upfront – I’m a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing and also of Brendan Cole, with his reputation as the “bad boy” of the show for his outspoken rejection of any unwarranted, in his view, criticism from the judges. In his latest touring show, Licensed to Thrill, we learn more about what makes Cole tick – yes, he is fiercely competitive and outspoken but he is also warm, funny, sentimental and, most importantly, hugely talented. The show ticks all the right boxes for Strictly fans and for lovers of ballroom and modern dance alike. Unfortunately this was the last night of this particular tour so if you missed it you will have to wait till next year for his new one.

Cole is 37 and has been with Strictly since the show’s first season ten years ago. He was born in New Zealand and, as he tells us in one of his many asides, his Mum forced him into taking dancing lessons at an early age. Well, that has turned out to have been a wise choice for him and for us as he has forged a very successful career doing something he so obviously enjoys. The theatre was pretty full and, unsurprisingly, not a lot of men in the audience. Dance has always been tagged as more of a female pursuit and not macho enough for some men but there is plenty to entertain both sexes on stage tonight – three gorgeous, leggy ladies in their sparkling nearly nothing costumes and three fit guys strutting their stuff. Fellow Strictly star Aliona Viliani replaced the injured Fauve Hautot and this was an added bonus as she complemented Brendan perfectly. Also part of the dance troupe are his older brother Scott, Patrick Helm, Crystal Main and Melanie Hopper. They are joined on stage by a 14 piece band and two extremely talented singers in Ian Mackenzie and Julie Maguire, all ably directed by Musical Director Barry Robinson.

A high energy rendition of Boogie Wonderland opens the show to rapturous applause and Cole grins like a Cheshire cat, knowing he has the audience in the palm of his hand. All the dances we know and love from watching Strictly are here – the sophisticated American Smooth, a hot Argentine Tango, a sassy Salsa, sensuous Rumba, and the cape twirling Pasa Doble, and a dance off between the boys and the girls to a sexy version of the Locomotion. In between we get lots of juicy snippets of behind the scenes Strictly gossip and a Q and A session with Brendan and even some audience participation where we all stand up and join in the final spectacular recreation of the famous scene from Dirty Dancing. Yes, we all had the time of our lives and Len and co would definitely have to give Brendan top marks for this show.

Irene Brownlee