Theatre Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Date Posted: 03/04/2014

Production shot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

What did Carrie Martindale think of this new musical version of the 80s comedy classic?

So what’s it all about? Big-time con artist Lawrence Jameson stumbles across a new man on his turf; American crook Freddy Benson, who is trying to get a piece of the filthy rich Riviera action.

Lawrence and his sidekick, the bent chief of police Andre, decide that they’ve got to get this new guy out of town. With plenty of rich heiresses thrown in for good measure, the ensuing plot results in some hilarious escapades.

I am a big fan of the 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which features superstars of the silver screen, Michael Caine and Steve Martin. Fortuitously, the musical version (said through slightly gritted teeth) was almost script-perfect to the film. Bar a budding romance between two of the support cast, there’s nothing new to see here.

Apart from the songs and dance routines that is. The film had a chirpy soundtrack which even now resonates with me, but it certainly wasn’t a musical. Yet again I utter the immortal words of the unbeliever: Why does everything have to be turned into an all-singing, all-dancing musical? American Psycho – The Musical anyone?

However, I suppose without being a musical then you wouldn’t have the dance routines, and there are some super-slick sequences and sizzlingly sexy costumes on display. The scenery is right out of the top drawer too, putting you slap-bang in the glamorous Art Deco surroundings of French Riviera town Beaumont-sur-Mer.

And there was a promising cast on the books, including Miss Moneypenny herself - Samantha Bond - in a supporting role, who was a real delight in Orton farce What the Butler Saw and doesn’t fail to please in Scoundrels. She’s joined by comedian Rufus Hound, veteran actor Robert Lindsay, and stage regulars Katherine Kingsley and John Marquez.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Production Image

I’ve not heard great things about Rufus Hound who plays likeable American rogue Freddy Benson. Being too highbrow (I await the mocking from fellow Group Leisure staff) to watch tacky TV quiz shows, I hadn’t really seen him in anything before and just knew him as ‘that bloke out of One Man, Two Guvnors’ for which he has received much acclaim.

In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he does a very passable impression of Steve Martin’s goofball guise, and is really rather good. To paraphrase Lawrence: “He’s so deliciously low; so horribly dirty”. He just can’t wait to do his Pygmalion routine on the poor yank.

In fact he shines in what was my favourite scene in the film; as Ruprecht (aka the monkey boy). He leers and lunges his way across the stage as the half-brother role engaged by Lawrence to rid him of all-too-attentive mark and an unwanted marriage proposal. He’s also great in one of the more memorable songs in the show, Great Big Stuff, a big-band routine which includes the whole ensemble dressed (rather naughtily) as French maids and bellboys. Have I piqued any more interest?

Robert Lindsay will always be King Lear in my mind. King Lear and dentist Ben in BBC comedy My Family. He disappointed me in the role of sleaze ball Lawrence Jameson, in that he just didn’t seem any different to his sitcom persona.

I am biased though as I wanted to be watching Sir Michael systematically whipping Freddy Benson, resplendent in his tux and slick-backed hairdo, as alter ego Doctor Emile Shuffhausen; and Ben from My Family just wasn’t as lip-curlingly charming.

Credit must go to Katherine Kingsley as preyed-upon Christine Colgate. She is probably the only member of the cast with a pitch-perfect voice and that big musical star ‘stage presence’. The Love is My Legs ballad sung with Freddy showcases her ability to hit the high notes and she’s a lot of fun in Ruffhousin’ Mit Shuffhausen.

Katherine Kingsley in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

I also enjoyed Like Zis/Like Zat, as well as the banter between Samantha Bond (Muriel) and John Marquez (Andre).

Great script, great comedy, great routines and some great acting. Some very disappointing singing and songs though, which surely begs a reiteration of the question: why a musical? However, if you’re looking for a night out with plenty of giggles then Freddy Benson’s not the only thing that’s deliciously dirty.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is currently booking at the Savoy Theatre in London until 29th November. Group travel organisers booking ten or more tickets are entitled to discounted rates for all performances excluding Saturday evenings.

Photo credits: Johan Persson.


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