WHAT has the Eurovision Song Contest given to the world?

Abba?, well yes, but there HAS been something else, a worldwide phenomenon that has reached places even Abba hasn’t reached.

Of course I’m talking about Riverdance, which was an immediate success when it was performed in the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest.

The standing ovation for the dancers, led by Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, and the music composed by Bill Whelan, led to the creation of a full-length show.

Opening in Dublin in February 1995, the show was a sell out and the phenomenon that is Riverdance took off.

The show has grown in the ensuing years into a music and dance extravaganza and has toured the world numerous times.

And on Monday, 20 years on, a celebratory tour of the show opens at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

As someone who has been with the show almost since the beginning and is now the executive producer, Julian Erskine, is the man to tell us more about the show.

He said: “From an Irish perspective, we had never seen anything like it, you see, Irish dancing was a competitive Irish hobby and was in a bit of a niche.

“The costumes were becoming more and more colourful and extravagant and to be honest it was all a bit odd and was in fact becoming a parody. Riverdance stripped away all that.”

He says the fact that the initial reaction continued and grew was a surprise.

“You can say that again, the big surprise was that the reaction also continued abroad.

“When we opened in London, the show was originally for a few weeks – it ran for two years; and then in America we sold out eight shows before we arrived and we continued to sell out shows for 16 years.

“It was a journey of discovery for some people who were on the crest of a creative wave and it was the first professional Irish dance show and is still the best.”

Julian agrees that in any stage show that runs for 20 years, things are constantly changing.

“You have to keep changing, we have a new lighting design and lots of new costumes,” he said.

“We also have a new number – the first for ten years – where it’s just the female dancers so we can give the girls a moment of their own.”

And what of the original seven-minute routine that began it all?

“We’ll do that forever,” says Julian, smiling. “It’s like our signature song.”

But it doesn’t come at the end.

“No, it’s at the end of the first half. We didn’t want it to be that everything leads up to that point – it’s only halfway through our journey.”

“But,” he adds. “You can’t do Riverdance without Riverdance.”

• Riverdance – The 20th Anniversary Tour will be at The Mayflower, Southampton from
Monday to Saturday.

• Performances start at 7.30pm, and on Wednesday and Saturday there is a matinee at 2pm.

• Tickets are priced at £26.50 to £43.50 (plus booking fee) and are available from the box office on 023 8071 1811 or the Mayflower website.