With just the right balance of charm, smarm and quintessential Englishness, Michael Praed plays Lawrence Jameson, a con man who spends his time in the French Riviera swindling money from the rich women using his good looks, his faithful partner in crime, Andre (Mark Benton) and a tired old story about him being the Prince of a revolution-torn country.
His unchallenged reign as king of the swindlers comes to an end with the arrival of Freddy Benson (Noel Sullivan), an uncouth, inexperienced and rough around the edges con man hoping to make his fortune. Lawrence agrees to take Freddy under his wing, but their initial prosperous partnership falters when they enter into a bet to see who can swindle $50,000 from a young lady first, leading to an increasing rivalry between the two.
Utilising a versatile, art deco influenced set which ably adapted to define a large number of specific locations, this production contained a set of decent, toe tapping and comfortingly familiar sounding songs, with snappy lyrics and lively presentation. The opening number, “Give Them What They Want” set the tone nicely, and the cowboy inspired ensemble piece “Oklahoma?” was a delightfully flamboyant, camp and fun number with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, proving to be a highlight of the show.
The show blended both a witty script packed with one liners and a lot of physical comedy; providing a number of genuine laugh out loud moments. The three leads were well cast, with Praed really impressing with his natural performance, Benton being as reliable as ever as the comedy sidekick, and Noel Sullivan putting in an unexpectedly impressive and confident turn.
What I did like about this show was that the set, presentation, tone, structure and even the musical numbers were steeped in the traditional elements of the classic musicals, giving the whole thing a feel of familiarity, but the characterisations went over and above the usual musical fayre, the story was more in depth and the departure from the usual “will they/won’t they” love story made a pleasant change. My only real criticism was that the second act couldn’t quite match the pace of the first act, and was more uneven in the spacing of its musical numbers, leading to the latter act feeling a little stretched out, particularly as the show drew to a close. Cutting ten minutes out of the second act would have made all the difference.
It was with some slight apprehension that I approached Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – a musical based on a fairly mediocre late 1980’s film which I never particularly liked; a lengthy running time and a handful of unfamiliar songs. But one of the things I love about theatre is its constant ability to surprise, and this production was no exception.
Overall, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels proved to be remarkably fun, coming across as an odd hybrid of Hairspray, The Producers, Top Hat and High Society. Far better than the film on which it is based, it transpired to be a show which I enjoyed it far more than I ever thought I would.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is currently at Sheffield Lyceum until the 29th August 2015 (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) before continuing on its national tour until 28th November 2015. For details, see the official website at www.scoundrelsontour.com