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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Savoy


  Katherine Kingsley/ Ph: Johan Persson

It’s little surprise that the escapist allure of the Cote D’Azur provides a haven for thieves. The combination of dreamy seascapes, ostentatious wealth and endless gambling opportunities certainly provides a magnet for fools who can easily be parted from their money. Cary Grant prowled these shores as an (ultimately) reformed cat burglar in To Catch a Thief decades before the con artists of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels cruised into town. Yet not much seems to have changed since the Hitchcock days, as the two unscrupulous leads prey on glamorous but gullible heiresses seeking to wash away the troubles of their lives with cocktails, roulette and a little light romance.
Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek’s musical first opened in New York in 2005, at a point when liberal America was steeped in disillusionment over the Iraq invasion. Its champagne-bubble-light sentiments provided an enjoyable counterpoint to the prevailing political mood, even though the lyrics of a song about genetic misfits couldn’t avoid a swipe at the president: "The Bushes of Texas/Were nervous wrecks as/Their son was incredibly dim." Here in London, with Robert Lindsay playing suave conman Lawrence Jameson and Rufus Hound as his shamelessly shambolic rival, the musical deploys its sparkling wit against the backdrop of incipient financial recovery. Though that sense of enjoyable escapism prevails, it seems a little creakier and more old-fashioned, despite Lindsay’s effortless panache and a scene-stealing performance from Katherine Kingsley as the girl who gives the con artists a taste of their own heavily sugared medicine.
It’s Lindsay’s unenviable task to step into the shoes first worn by Michael Caine in the 1988 movie. Yet the ironic top-hat-twirling finesse of his opening number "Give Them What They Want" more than proves that he has the combination of aplomb and cheeky-chappy subversiveness necessary to hold the production together. Hound, though undeniably good, has a far trickier time eclipsing not just Steve Martin but the extraordinary performance given by Norbert Leo Butz when the musical opened in New York.
Butz in particular turned vulgarity into an art form, not least in his rip-roaring delivery of the songs "Great Big Stuff" and "All About Ruprecht." Hound just doesn’t have the vocal or physical versatility to match him. However, he does excel both at the hollow-eyed exasperation when he feels he’s being outplayed, and at the pseudo-pathos necessary to trap his victims. There’s also a great chemistry between him and Lindsay that reaches its apogee in the scene where Lindsay poses as an Austrian doctor curing Freddy’s hysterical paralysis of the legs.
Given the irreverence of the evening, it seems wrong to dwell on its somewhat dated sexual politics – not least since it is the female con artist who prevails. Yet there are worrying elements, not so much in the not-quite-ironic-enough chorus girls, as in the slightly desperate Surrey heiress who finally finds fulfillment when John Marquez’s chief of police decides to distract her by taking her to bed. Her transparent neediness seems a diminution of the normally superlative Samantha Bond’s talents. By contrast, Lizzy Connolly’s leggy oil heiress who attempts to marry Jameson seems far too crude – pun intended – even though she goes a long way towards redeeming herself in the gun-totin’ "Oklahoma" number.

Such quibbles aside, it is Kingsley who makes this her evening, with her pseudo-innocence, effortlessly soaring voice and the perfect comic timing of her faux-clumsy dancing. She, Lindsay and Hound look as if they are having a ball together and by the end only the most curmudgeonly critic would deny that you leave the theatre feeling a little lighter at heart than you did when you entered it.


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