Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Theatre review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The popular but much-criticised screen-to-stage trend has had a few knocks lately, but a Broadway import could give it a bit of a boost through, in part, getting one of the most basic elements right: Picking a source material that actually suits its new format, in this case an old-fashioned, big budget musical (complete with pause before Robert Lindsay's first line so the audience can applaud his entrance; they didn't.) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels follows the 1988 Frank Oz film very closely:  Lawrence (Lindsay) is a British con-man living in the South of France, where he makes a fortune every summer posing as a deposed prince, and convincing wealthy heiresses to fund his fictional nation's freedom-fighters. The arrival of small-time American crook Freddie (Rufus Hound) threatens to get in the way of his plans, and the only way to get rid of him is to challenge him, the loser having to leave the town forever.

Visiting American soap heiress Christine Colgate (Katherine Kingsley) is the target, and the first to get €50,000 from her wins. But as the pair's schemes get increasingly absurd, Christine proves to be a bit more complex than the spoilt rich girls Lawrence prefers to target.

Kingsley takes a while to arrive but when she does she's the real star of the show and the one who gets the opportunity to belt out the biggest tunes. The show's fun but it's very close to the film, making for another of those instances where I remembered the original much better than I thought: It's not just the plot but specific gags which are the same, meaning I was a bit too far ahead of the action to really get lost in it.

My other little gripe is that songwriter David Yazbek and writer Jeffrey Lane have nominally set what feels like a very late-50s/early-'60s story in the present day. It leaves you wondering why people confronted with a prince from a country they've never heard of aren't straight on their smartphones verifying its existence, and the occasional "fuck" jars with the old-fashioned Broadway music style and the entire aesthetic - it seems an unnecessary price to pay for a couple of gags about hanging out with the Obamas.

Where the show most comes to life though is in the romantic sub-plot where Lawrence's henchman (and local Chief of Police) Andre (John Marquez) falls for the "prince's" last victim, home counties widow Muriel (Samantha Bond.) The two actors are an unexpected but very effective pairing, and also do the best job with the occasional breaking of the fourth wall that sees the characters commentate on the staging. Their energy reaches all the way to the Grand Circle, which I can't honestly say is the case throughout. But if not instantly memorable the songs are foot-tappers, the production values are well-used and this is a solid, if not classic West End show.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels by David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane is booking until the 29th of November at the Savoy Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including interval.

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