Review: The Right Ballerina

4 star rating
A powerful and enthralling play, based on real-life events, asks us to consider important questions about personal freedom, the power of protest groups and political interference in the public funding of the arts. Highly recommended.
The Right Ballerina at the Hen & Chickens Theatre

Image: Pump Out Productions

Closes here: Saturday 22 October 2016

Billy Cowan

Matthew Gould


Jack Stevens - Adam Grayson

Penny Leigh - Genevieve Berkeley-Steele

Trevor - Gregory A Smith

Mr X - Filip Krenus


Top ballerina Penny Leigh has a secret.

When the enigmatic Mr X makes it known to the world, Penny is in danger of loosing more than her reputation.


Written by award winning playwright Billy Cowan, and directed by Matthew Gould.

Inspired by true events, this unrelenting, absurdist drama takes the pressure cooker premise to a lethal conclusion.

Following a successful tour making its debut at The Lowry, Salford, Pump Out Productions presents the London premiere of The Right Ballerina.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 12 October 2016
Review star rating image for 3 stars

The action of this play takes place in the office of the artistic director of a ballet company which is under siege from protestors seeking the dismissal of the company's principal ballerina, Penny Leigh (Genevieve Berkeley-Steele).

Though she has raked in cash for the company thanks to her accomplished dance skills and popularity with the ballet-loving public, Ms Leigh has been outed as a member of a far-right political party.

We join events just after the protests have started.

The company's artistic director, Jack Stevens (Adam Grayson), tells Ms Leigh that he will have to meet with the organisers of the protests, but that her position in the company is secure.

However, when the mysterious Mr X (an emissary of the 'organisation' representing the protestors) arrives to see Jack, things start to take a turn for the worse and events quickly escalate with dire personal consequences for Ms Leigh.

The play is based on true events - in 2006 the Guardian outed Simone Clarke, one of the leading dancers at the English National Ballet, as a member of the British National Party.

Writer Billy Cowan has used some of the facts from that real-life case in his play, though the parallels are not exact, and the outcomes are different in the stage and real-life versions.

Indeed, Mr Cowan deliberately takes matters to the extreme, presumably with the intention of showing the potential conclusion of the protestors' logic.

And his play is both well-structured and cleverly written, relentlessly revealing new layers of complexity and obstacles as events proceed.

Adam Grayson is artistic director Jack Stevens, under severe pressure not only from the protestors massing on his doorstep, but also from his management board concerned more than anything with the financial health of the ballet company.

Resorting to various types of alcoholic lubricants to ease the difficult conversations he has to face, Mr Grayson gives us a man torn between his personal and company duties and responsibilities, who eventually opts for a 'final solution', placing his own position and future above that of the ballerina he (initially) purports to support.

Filip Krenus's Mr X is an odd-ball character trapped in a bizarre personal world of ridiculous ritualised behaviour (almost balletic in style) and inflexibly obsessed with his organisation's decisions which prove alarmingly threatening and dangerously immovable.

Genevieve Berkeley-Steele certainly has the slim frame to convince as a ballet dancer, but she also provides a poignant description of the emotional turmoil her character undergoes.

And Gregory A Smith takes the role of camp board director Trevor, who also faces dilemmas in terms of loyalty, but also demonstrates an ability to take direct action on his own account when his anger reaches boiling point.

Matthew Gould provides a strong directorial grip here, keeping the twists and turns of events flowing along at an unhurried pace and dealing convincingly with the more violent interactions between characters as tempers fray when options evaporate.

Even if there are some humorous moments in this well-acted and well-directed piece, make no mistake that it also asks immensely important questions about personal freedom, the responsibilities of employers, the power of protest groups and the way public funding of the arts can be determined by political factors rather than purely artistic ones.

Whatever your political opinions, this powerful and enthralling play is bound to get you thinking and should provoke discussion and (more likely) heated argument long after the final curtain.

Highly recommended.

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