Amanda Whittington is a dramatist who has written over 30 plays for UK theatre and radio. She has three titles in Nick Hern Books’ Top Ten Most Performed Plays of 2018: Ladies Day, Be My Baby and The Thrill of Love. Amanda has numerous writing credits for BBC Radio Four, including The Archers. Her 2016 drama D for Dexter won Best Series/Serial in the BBC Audio Drama Awards and the fifth series will be broadcast in November 2018.
She recently revealed more about what audiences can expect from her sequin-studded ballroom drama, Kiss Me Quickstep at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch:
For those that don’t know the play, what is Kiss Me Quickstep about?
Kiss Me Quickstep is about the highs and lows of competitive dancing. It’s set at the British Amateur championships in Blackpool and follows three couples as they battle for ballroom and Latin glory. It’s a world where winning is everything. We see their relationships pushed to the limit and discover the struggles and sacrifices they make to become champions. The drama also plays out on the ballroom floor, so we also get to enjoy some highly competitive dance routines.
In 2012, you were one of six writers offered a Making Tracks bursary, towards making a creative journey. Can you tell us more about your experience at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and how it sparked inspiration for Kiss Me Quickstep?
Making Tracks was a rare opportunity to take a creative research trip and ‘find’ a play. I chose Blackpool, as it’s the home of ballroom dance and I’d long felt there was a great story behind the glitz and glamour. Thanks to the bursary, I spent two weeks at the World Championships, held in the gorgeous Winter Gardens. It was amazing spectacle: 3,000 couples representing 60 countries. It was a surreal experience, as the frocks, fake tan and fixed smiles of the dancefloor felt a world away from reality. The dancing was extraordinary but what I didn’t expect to see were the dancers preparing in full view of the audience. Backstage was actually the back of the ballroom: dresses and tail-suits were hung up in the stairwells, suitcases spilled open in shadowy corners. It was a world where illusion and truth blurred into one, and that was the starting point for the play.
Shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice have been successfully gripping the nation for over a decade. What is it about these type of dance shows do you think that capture the hearts of those who have never danced before.
I think it’s probably because we’d all like to do it! There’s a real sense of magic and escapism in those shows, but also the promise that the most unlikely person can become a wonderful dancer. The ‘best’ celebrity dancers on Strictly aren’t the ones who capture our imaginations; we’re rooting for the underdog who triumphs against the odds. I think it’s the Cinderella story that draws us in; the ugly ducklings who turn into swans.
This production is the first revival of Kiss Me Quickstep. How is this version going to be different to its premiere?
It’s a completely new cast and creative team, so they’ll interpret the script in a different way and make it their own. It’s always fascinating for writers to see how a new company tells what appears to be the same story in a unique and surprising voice. At the first Kiss Me Quickstep read-through, I had a fresh perspective on the characters, which is all about what the individual actors bring to them. That’s one of the great things about writing for theatre, as opposed to TV, film or novels: the work is made over and over again, and reimagined every time.
What’s going to surprise people about this show?
There’s plenty of humour in the show but we’re definitely not sending up the characters. It’s easy to make light of the frothy façade of ballroom and Latin but we take the lives of the dancers very seriously. I interviewed dance competitors, judges and teachers in a bid to capture the reality of competitive dance. Hopefully, it gives an insight into how much hard work, commitment and stamina it takes to create that effortless perfection on the dancefloor. I’d say the show reveals the iceberg below the surface of the performance, which is something we rarely get to see or appreciate.
You’ve worked with the Queen’s Theatre before. What other productions have you collaborated on?
I’ve been lucky, as the Queen’s Theatre has staged three of my plays: Satin n Steel, Ladies Day and Ladies Down Under. I think the accessible style of my work sits well here and connects with the audience. I’ve always really enjoyed working here and I’m delighted to be back with Kiss Me Quickstep, which is one of the most ambitious plays I’ve written in terms of size and scope. I can’t wait to see it on stage at the Queen’s Theatre.
Why should audiences come and see Kiss Me Quickstep?
If you love dance, it’s a guaranteed good night out but if Strictly isn’t your thing, the play might surprise you. It’s a story about the world we think we know but that hides many secrets. For me, Kiss Me Quickstep is about the grit in the oyster that forms the pearl.
Kiss Me Quickstep is co-produced by the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich. The show plays in Hornchurch from 22 February – 9 March, transfers to Ipswich from 13 – 23 March and then tours to Theatr Clwyd from 26 – 30 March.