Strictly Come Dancing, Blackpool review: the first perfect 40, but camerawork lets it down

Fleur East scored the first perfect 40 of the series - PA
Fleur East scored the first perfect 40 of the series - PA

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside. It was hard to miss the fact that Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One) was back in Blackpool - well, it was mentioned several times per minute - but the ballroom mecca worked its magic, lifting the hoofing to new heights. It was just a shame that the camerawork couldn’t keep up.

After a Covid-enforced hiatus, the Strictly charabanc headed north to the Tower Ballroom for the first time in three years. The sea air went to everyone’s heads. This was a themed week in all but name, with the dressing-up box plundered and the kitchen sink thrown at the choreography.

The fabled venue, with its Victorian splendour and sprung dancefloor, is the beating heart of the ballroom world. A few couples rose to the occasion and we saw the first perfect 40 of the series. Others were swamped by the surroundings. The result was a show of two halves.

Last week’s leaderboard-topper Fleur East repeated the trick with a Couple's Choice number, set to a Destiny’s Child megamix. Clad in a space-age silver catsuit, she busted out a breathless, powerful epic worthy of Control-era Janet Jackson or Beyoncé herself.

“One word, three syllables, begins with F,” teased judge Craig Revel Horwood. Flamingo? Frittata? Funeral? No, naturally, it was “fab-ew-lous”.

Fleur East’s Beyoncé-themed Couple’s Choice number scored a 40 - Guy Levy/PA
Fleur East’s Beyoncé-themed Couple’s Choice number scored a 40 - Guy Levy/PA

Would he dust off his 10 paddle for the first time this year? The panto pro milked the dramatic pause before doing just that. Fleur sweetly gave all the credit to her mother Irene, weeping with pride in the audience. Why East didn’t close the show is anyone’s guess, since it would have ended a rambunctious episode on a high.

Instead she was followed by Will Mellor’s technicolour samba. Pink-trousered Mellor brought Rio carnival to the Pleasure Beach with a camp, colourful party dance. An eight from Revel Horwood seemed harsh for what he’d just called “hip-tastic” but it ended proceedings on a mild anti-climax.

Tucked in behind East at the summit of the scoring tower were the two Hs, Helen Skelton and Hamza Yassin. Increasingly the favourite to lift that glitterball trophy in a month’s time, Yassin opened the show with an American smooth foxtrot full of Hollywood glamour.

Helen Skelton and Gorka Marquez during the live show of Strictly Come Dancing - Guy Levy/PA
Helen Skelton and Gorka Marquez during the live show of Strictly Come Dancing - Guy Levy/PA

Head judge Shirley Ballas hailed him as “the one to beat” but beaten he was by Skelton’s thrilling quickstep, which raced around the floor with real panache. Not even a dreadful pleather outfit could take the edge off her best dance yet. With East, Yassin and Skelton rising to the top, have we got our three finalists already?

In such a mammoth space, performances needed to be more expansive, with props and extra dancers to fill the floor. These often felt more of a distraction than a bonus. Kym Marsh’s paso doble was swamped by its staging. Tyler West donned a giant Afro wig for his disco salsa but it was more about hen party gimmicks than spicy Latin flavour.

Uprooted from its Elstree comfort zone, the production was by no means perfect. Blackpool is a ballroom rather than a TV studio. Sightlines were longer, logistics were less slick, camerawork suffered. Footwork was missed and backing dancers strayed in front of the lens. Comedian Ellie Taylor was caught clumsily fastening her own harness, which drained her flying exit of its intended wow factor.

Mainly, though, this seaside special had all the fun of the fairground. The professional troupe welcomed viewers back to Blackpool with a candy-coloured group dance along the promenade, before bringing us into that magnificent tiered ballroom. Fireworks went off. Streamers fell. It was as subtle as a kiss-me-quick hat and sickly as a stick of rock but still irresistible.

Who’s had their chips and will be boarding a Blackpool tram out of the contest? By rights it should be Taylor but I fear for West and CBBC starlet Molly Rainford. Whoever bows out, at least they've gone out on a gaudy, giddy high.