FringeReview UK 2019
Directed by Ed Curtis. Mark Walter’s set is horseshoe-shaped including Ben Cracknell’s neon lighting with hotels towering behind it. Walter designs costumes with Richard Mawbey’s wigs. Richard Brooker’s sound design is appropriately brash and Mark Thomas marks smooth transitions between set numbers with a pizzazz and pumping score.
There are a handful of TV series you can just see on the stage. No awkward fit, or over-naturalistic set to disguise the thinness of the theatrical guise. Derren Litten’s Benidorm Live is one of those seemingly born for theatre but diverted for eleven years to TV instead.
Picking up where the last series ended last year, we’re at a peeling star hotel (the fourth’s dropping off) staffed by Brits and Spaniards whose job were under the axe when TV left them for running the most shambolic hotel in Benidorm. Only one thing could make it worse: the arrival of undercover inspectors forcing you to get your act together. At this point Hotel Solana seems doomed. Especially as they will keep guessing at the inspectors’ identity.
Directed by Ed Curtis with the slickness of baby oil, the whole show’s compress to just over two hours with an interval. Mark Walter’s set is horseshoe-shaped including Ben Cracknell’s neon lighting with hotels towering behind it; and the Solana in foreground. The challenge is to keep props like desks, poolside deckchairs and in the Blow’n Go hair salon, pushing the battery of hairdryers slightly upstage to allow theatre business to whistle through. And what a lot there is.
Walter designs the candy-bright costumes too – with Richard Mawbey’s wigs – where fuscha pink baby blue Beleesha yellow dominate the palate, and then there’s the T-shirts… Richard Brooker’s sound design is appropriately brash and Mark Thomas marks smooth transitions between set numbers with a pizzazzy and pumping score. It’s turned up a bit too loud but then the spectacular ensemble finish with ‘Viva Espana’ is irresistible.
Six of the original cast star in this tour. It’s like a Christmas Special gone out after the watershed where the actors leap out of the screen.
So, those inspectors. Uptight posh Sophie, Tricia-Adele Turner, and her more amenable husband Ben (Bradley Clarkson) have been diverted from their four-star, and aren’t best pleased. They must be…
Sherrie Hewson as hotel manager Joyce is let off a few leashes in this theatrical version. She has some weaponry too. Jake Canuso’s dispatched as womanising barman Mateo and on his own account too makes to seduce Sophie in vivid cadmium red budgie smugglers and alter on in well-loaded trunks a song about a cock. Nor is ben immune. Swinger Jacqueline, played to a rasp of delight by Janine Duvitski, roll-calls her single-, sous- and double entendres. Like the sausage inside and other delicious meals she wants to gobble down. The rest you’ll have to hear yourself. Duvitski’s the star in a very strong cast indeed. In ensembles her voice cuts through like a serrated knife. Her performance of the Bobby Vee song Rubber Ball. Then there’s the curious staffer Ricky – Will Jennings – and his obscure penchant for getting English syntax more accurate than the natives. We find out why.
Tony Maudsley’s Kenneth anchors the salon in mordant on-liners. In a sense he’s the still hair-gel in a turning world, or a vibrating one as everyone else goes frizzy – not just his number two Liam getting instructions wrong (long suffering Deborah Bundy).
There’s a new stage show character ‘Gay Derek’ (Damian Williams, a gay Brian Blessed of a turn) who – encouraged over to Benidorm by Jacqueline – has his sausage set on the great hairdresser with the out-loud t-shirt slogans, while Blow ‘n’ Go’ salon’s usually Eeyorish Liam (Adam Gillen) jerks about like a demented Norman Wisdom on the dance floor with a marvellous bout of off-key singing. That takes talent. And there’s a surprise romance – surprising for several reasons.
The great revelation here is Shelley Longworth’s Sam who gets to showcase her lustrous soprano range only checked by her comic talent as the girl who gets left… but there’s a surprise too.
Asa Elliott has spent time in Benidorm honing real skills as a hotel crooner, and weighs a fine sonic anchor. Only Tim Healey’s Les doesn’t reappear. Will Breckin, Kevin Bewis, Serena Giacomini (who supplies romance as Brenda) and Ben Redfern make up the ensemble.
There’s no doubt that when the meet-and-greet-character sweep of Act One gives way to Act Two’s Neptune’s Bar there’s a crank up in quality. Plots tighten and twist, characters interact and thread between musical numbers. Even the lighting’s more spectacular. And this is when the audience, cheering every time a familiar face arrives, finally get roped into the shanties. Nautical but nice.
Apart from Duvitski, Canuso’s flamenco dancing is a showstopper and this with Longworth’s singing stud the admittedly thin plot. But it’s a clever one, with outcomes you won’t see er.. coming, in three or four surprises. They’re convincing for the most part too. Litten’s certainly proved his touch hasn’t deserted him when going live. But he did always want to rewrite a school pantomime. It’s a heartwarming, if occasionally over-loud production: but it has the brash conviction of it origins, out and proud of it.