FringeReview UK 2019
Written by Michael Gyngell. Directors Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston, who also choreographs, have crafted an unstoppable fling through the 1980s with Greg Arrowsmith’s musical arrangements. Diego Pitarch’s loud pastels mark a distinct Liquorice All-Sorts world of colour. Tim Deiling’s lighting is clean and Ben Harrison’s sound is punchy. Till March 30th. Tours till September.
Not many things make the plot of Benidorm – which played here only four weeks back – look subtle: Club Tropicana The Musical is one of them. It even has a plot point in common, the dreaded hotel inspector and English staff. It’s loud, full of tunes, joyously proud of itself. But in Greg Arrowsmith’s arrangements the tunes are wonderful even if we know them, the 19-strong ensemble are terrific and in writer Michael Gyngell’s hands the twin storyline dances along briskly with heart and hurt.
Directors Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston, who also choreographs, have crafted an unstoppable fling through the 1980s where Club Tropicana lounges – and lunges with every move a puffed blouse with shoulder-pads and big hair can manage: quite a few. Diego Pitarch’s loud pastels mark a distinct Liquorice All-Sorts world of colour. He’s modelled labelled t-shirts (an innovation then) to the baby-blue and pink set of the Club itself with various exits – one neatly containing a removable alcove for various ceremonies – flashing lights and a couple of booths for booking. And some red-stencilled bulls rampant just to let you know this is Spain. Tim Deiling’s lighting is clean and Ben Harrison’s sound is punchy, too loud for the venue like most of these productions, but absolutely clear.
It starts briefly in the UK and Cellen Chugg Jones’ Olly and Karina Hind’s Lorraine are about to get married. Only Lorraine’s blessed with two friends – Tara Verloop’s Andrea and comic-evil genius Tracy (Rebecca Mendoza: who nudges her doubts. She won’t wed but why don’t the three of them enjoy the Honeymoon package holiday anyway?
‘Girls just wanna have fun’ with its memorable minor-key and breaking the word ‘fun’ (in Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 torch-song rendition) employs a streak of genius: a paean to hedonism with an undertow of intense melancholy. It still remains the best song in this mix, but there are so many. The ensemble belt this out with brio: Hind, Mendoza and Verloop to the fore. Like everything in this show it’s done with gusto and soul. And we’re compelled to join in. Just to warn you.
And we’re there. The couple’s travails are nudged slightly to the side as other characters take centre-stage. Chief among them are a business partnership – Amelle Berrabah’s Serena who has a secret crush on Robert (Neil McDermott). Dare she tell him? well MC Joe McElderry’s Garry bounces in but later lends a sympathetic ear. Both possess memorable voices. McElderry’s famed vocal skills are called on not just to deliver the anchor songs of the night but the key climax. He’s above the title, but this is an ensemble piece and McElderry fits happily in.
Alas there’s no chance to declare before Emily Tierney’s Christine rolls up and catches Robert’s eye. Could she be the secret hotel reviewer? The prize has always gone to another hotel.
Haughty Christine who starts to cause mayhem and accrue an impressive array of bandages and neck-braces as she gets successively slapped in accidents, is out to get Robert for more than sex, though she wants him for that sure enough.
Oh and there’s Kate Robbins’ Consuela. Rather improbably she combines monosyllabic English with a fine line in musical impersonation. Robbins like Mendoza is one of the great comic turns who lights up the place with sheer dragging-out of jokes and burlesque sense of things. Delivering her cocktails she reduces to the indicative. ‘Mary – you, and Screw – you.’ Gyngell gets his gags in and it’s a witty script in primary colours. Wait till you get Consuela’s hand signals.
Though that’s nothing like Mendoza’s seduction scene as Tracey angles and ogles for Olly. It’s so outrageous the 80s would have banned it. Family viewing? Well not then anyway. Enjoy….
The hoteliers’ through-line is complicated by the trio’s arrival and another trio, young lads: wholly unreconstructed too. Rory Phelan’s Drew, Kane Verall’s Blane… and Olly.
Will those two couples ever get together, will Christine with her eyes on Robert, Tracey with her eyes and rather more on Olly have their wicked? Well, in a way, but … you’ll have to see what happens. And there’s another couple, who – well let’s say Thatcher and Clause 28 would have had none of it. And they have the last kiss. In a flurry of singing, impersonations, knife-throwing acts and toreadors and machas in drag, it’s a riot. I almost expected ‘Viva Espana’ to come out and play, but actually….
My only slight concern lies in creating two women as schemers, even though one redeems herself (Mendoza’s prone to lying prone in a lift gag and lots of other places; it works for her). I suppose that’s a bit 80s too. Nevertheless despite the rice-paper plot it’s deft, well worked out and satisfying. As producer Mark Goucher says it’s ‘a fun show with great music… We are not trying to win any prizes but to give you a good night out.’ And they deliver, in Costa Blanca spades.