Gallery/video: Behind the scenes of Strictly Confidential

Entertainment writer Wayne Savage with Strictly Confidential's Natalie Lowe, Craig Revel Horwood, Li

Entertainment writer Wayne Savage with Strictly Confidential's Natalie Lowe, Craig Revel Horwood, Lisa Riley, Ian Waite and Artem Chigvintsev. All photos: Ellis O'Brien - Credit: Archant

It could be any church hall in any town. Heading down a labyrinth of stairs; Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High and a rocking horn section tell me I’m in the right place for the Strictly Confidential rehearsals.

It could be any church hall in any town. Heading down a labyrinth of stairs; Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High and a rocking horn section tell me I’m in the right place for the Strictly Confidential rehearsals.

The new show, written and directed by notorious TV judge Craig Revel Horwood, gives fans of hit BBC One TV smash Strictly Come Dancing the chance to get up close and personal with Lisa Riley and professional dancers Artem Chigvintsev, Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite.

Craig, also directing, is casually dressed in a Bondi vest top and sweats, shimmying and shaking as he choreographs his “hideously talented” band who also sing, act and dance. All done, the familiar phrase of “fab-u-lous” echoes across the din of excited chatter.

“It’s been going surprisingly and alarmingly well,” he laughs, cha cha charming in real-life and - his fellow Aussie Natalie tells me - professionally funny and great in the bar after a show.

“I don’t know why because I had no idea when I walked into this particular space less than a week ago whether or not it (the idea) had legs or not. I had it in my head but it’s never been done before so it’s a bit of a gamble. I’m absolutely loving it.”

The goal was to create a show for professional dancers that had more of a heart than just another demonstration piece.

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He included Lisa because of – to use a TV phrase – her journey.

“She had a great time doing Strictly; it changed her life. When I saw her CV I thought ‘oh I’ll be able to use some of that’. I created the show from CVs actually, the dancers’ real-life stories; their passions, loves, hates, desires, hopes.

“They’re talking about themselves, their lives, how they got the first phone call from Strictly... it’s quite an enlightening evening, jam-packed obviously full of dance.”

Is he giving the dancers an easier time than he does on a Saturday night?

“My reputation is on the line here isn’t it,” he laughs. “No, tougher. I’m very nice as you can see. It’s only if you have bad dancing, but we don’t so I really haven’t got anything to complain about. The only time I get a bit narky is if people don’t take their dance seriously I suppose.”

No plans for an Ann Widdecombe, Fiona Phillips, John Sergeant sequel?

“I think the criteria is the person does really need to able to dance to a certain standard and level you know,” he smiles.

Bustling with sweating dancers, Lisa and Artem are marking moves in the main hall. Ian and Natalie are rehearsing the other side of the double doors. Everybody’s having fun.

“That’s what the practice room should be all about, fun, fun, fun as well as learning all the steps which come over time. Artem’s amazing, the patience he has with me. We have a ball,” says Lisa.

Has she succeeded in her mission to camp him up?

“Have you seen (him) today,” she laughs.

Lisa’s anxiously waiting for her former dance partner; Ipswich born and raised Robin Windsor, to drop by.

“I’ll be really nervous and get it all wrong.”

With Strictly Come Dancing she had four full days to learn one routine. This time she’s got 14 days to learn nine.

“I’m singing; I’ve got a nine-minute monologue. I’m in the bath in the hotel... God know what the neighbours must think, me just keep singing and talking to myself.”

Over the way, Ian and Artem discuss bonding with their Strictly Come Dancing celebrities. How you become like brother and sister or, in the latter’s case, laughs Ian, boyfriend and girlfriend - refering to Kara Tointon, with whom Artem won Strictly in 2010.

It’s not always easy admits Ian, not naming names. Artem puts differences down to how you’ve been raised (to dance). The Russian recalls his teachers throwing shoes at him and hitting him many times with a stick.

“Tough love... that’s how I knew my coach cared about me; he wanted to continue correcting me.”

“There’s a way of correcting...” counters Ian.

“Well, if you had grown up in Russia you would have understood... If I see my partner doing good I would always say that’s a brilliant job. If it’s awful I’m going to say it’s awful, I can’t fake it.”

Artem’s never experienced a show like Strictly Confidential.

“You deliver a speech; then you go into dance... talking about yourself, it (the show) becomes more personal. You have to put your own voice into it, which is a huge difference (to adopting a character on the TV show).”

Drawing his fair share of attention from some of the women in the room, especially when his shirt comes off, he has double cause to look forward to opening night.

“The first performance is my birthday. It’s the usual... I always dance on my birthday so it’s not new for me.”

He confirms Craig is behaving himself... so far. “It’s early days,” he laughs.

So the scoring paddles haven’t come out yet?

“I don’t think we’re going to give him paddles. We’re going to keep them and say how good he is.”

Despite her protests, statuesque Natalie looks amazing as she sits down beside me.

The only professional girl on the show, she’s here, there and everywhere and feels the pressure to deliver.

“Each day I go home and tell my flatmates all about the show and they’re sitting there with massive smiles on their faces. I can’t wait to come back the next day to see what evolves. It feels so bright. The show is emotional, funny, humorous, interesting and the music is phenomenal.”

I’m surprised she’s got breath to speak after watching the opening number.

“That’s nothing,” she laughs. “I think audiences are going to love it. I can’t wait to see this on stage with the lighting and the costumes... seeing it come to life in this hall, it’s already exciting.

“We’re all in it together. It’s crazy, we really feel like we’re baring our all; it’s our baby and we want to make it something people have never seen before.”

Judge for yourself when Strictly Confidential visits Ipswich’s Regent Theatre on July 6 and Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion on June 20-22 (scoring paddles not provided). For more information visit www.strictlyconfidentialtour.com

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