Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is full of clashes, oxymorons and anachronisms that make it something of a theatrical mess, albeit one that remains hugely entertaining.
It’s best described as classy yet crude. Based on the comedy film starring Michael Caine, the narrative revolves around two conmen in the French Riviera - Lawrence Jameson (Roberty Lindsay) and Freddy Benson (Rufus Hound) – who compete to win the affection and money of a rich heiress. The two actors’ performances reflect these extremes: Lindsay floats and thrusts around the stage with suave sophistication and sings in a light croon, whilst Hound resorts to vulgarity and toilet humour like a schoolboy, barking his vocals with a distinct lack of subtlety. The rapport between them is electric, their timing spot on and their comedy effortlessly amusing, but by frequently breaking the fourth wall their routines descend into pantomime shtick. Stylistically, their performances undermine each other. Thankfully, Samantha Bond and Alice Fearn (understudy to Katherine Kingsley) provide plenty of class as the two women being swindled – Fearn's vocals are especially impressive – whilst John Marquez amuses as Lawrence’s French assistant Andre Thibault.
This juxtaposition runs throughout the production. The show begins as a pastiche of the old big band musicals with slinky ballroom choreography, girls in gowns and a delicately intricate set that’s well suited to the Art Deco interior of the Savoy. It immediately gives a sense of 40s glamour that is soon undercut by frequent modern references in the script that confuses the timeframe. Soon the chorus erupt in a hillbilly line dance routine (led by a hilarious Lizzy Connolly), French maids wear some provocatively revealing outfits and the plot quickly descends into silliness before an oddly contemporary conclusion. Perhaps this is to purposefully undermine the faux-sophistication of the setting, but the production becomes as jarring as the fluctuating accents, lacking coherency.
The music, too, is a pastiche of old jazz standards. The tunes are functional at best, offering no show-stopping numbers, and only Fearn sings with the passion and technique you’d expect from this style of show. Yet nothing more than that is necessary – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels simply aspires to be a fun night out at the theatre. The production is as slick as Lindsay's hat flicks, the music is pleasant enough and the slapstick performances thoroughly hilarious. For frothy, classy yet crude amusement, the show is perfectly entertaining.
Watch: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is booking at the Savoy Theatre until March 2015.