REVIEW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Savoy Theatre, London

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It’s one of the West End’s youngest productions, but does Dirty Rotten Scoundrels have what it takes to tread the boards for years to come? Katy Wheeler took her seat at its London home to find out.

Take a dash of glamour, a shot of jaw-achingly funny dialogue, mix it with a gloriously sun-drenched set and a generous sprinkling of super sharp acting and you have the recipe for a cocktail worthy of being supped in the sophisticated French Riviera setting of this show.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels isn’t the most obvious of silver screen to stage adaptations.

Granted, it’s a truly funny film – as you would expect from a bill that boasts Michael Caine and Steve Martin – but a musical it isn’t.

That’s where the stage version comes into its own.

It takes a plot, which will be comfortably familiar to those who’ve seen the 1988 movie, and enhances it with slick songs and a greater pace.

It takes a stellar cast to get a new show noticed in the West End – an arena which chews fledgeling musicals up and spits them out for breakfast should sales slightly flag – but this production is in safe hands.

Since opening in April, the good ship Scoundrel has been steered by multi-award winning actor Robert Lindsay, comedy star Rufus Hound, Olivier nominee Katherine Kingsley and the always-brilliant Samantha Bond.

Lindsay and Hound are deliciously diabolical duo Lawrence Jameson and Freddy Benson, who devise a plan to scam heiress Christine Colgate (Katherine Kingsley) out of $50,000.

Cue laughter, and lots of it, as the pair try to outwit Christine, and each other, in scene upon scene of classic comedy.

The show’s in the same vein of the old school musicals, the ones where the chemistry between the actors is electrifyingly palpable and the dialogue as important, if not more so, than the songs.

Music is not shoe-horned in between scenes jukebox musical-stylee purely to get toes tapping, it’s a device to move the plot along and add to the narrative. It makes this show more of a play with music than a musical per se.

I caught up with leading lady Katherine Kingsley backstage at the Savoy Theatre following the show, who says its fusion of wit and original score is what drew her to the role.

“David Yazbek, who wrote the music, created this original score which has allowed the stage show to become its own thing,” she explained. “I think if it was a jukebox musical, using music from the ‘80s, it wouldn’t be as good a show as it is.”

She added: “It’s more of a play with music because the songs move the narrative along. It’s a sophisticated musical and it’s a traditional musical, I’m loving being in it.

“We get lovely houses and I think the comedy element will make it easier for the show to have a long run because there’s that nice exchange of energy with the audience.”

The show, which is brought to the stage by Ambassador Theatre Group and Jerry Mitchell Productions, has just extended its run to spring next year and Katherine hopes it will eventually tour.

“I hope it lasts and lasts,” she said. “I have no idea if they plan to tour it, but if it does I can imagine it doing really well out of town. “We previewed the show in Manchester and they loved it up north. There’s something very generous about northern audiences.”

Ostensibly a ditzy character, Christine soon reveals herself to be more complex and she ends up being the perfect foil to her leading men.

At the performance I reviewed Robert Lindsay – of Citizen Smith and My Family fame – was on his first sick day of the run, but Darren Bennett was a perfectly capable replacement.

He slid into Lawrence Jameson’s impeccably shiny brogues with ease, charming the ladies, and the audience, with his silky smooth persona.

At the other end of the con man scale is Rufus Hound as the more clumsy and rough around the edges, Freddy. He’s every ounce as funny as his Celebrity Juice appearances, but boy can he act too.

The male pair sizzle on stage together as they go to greater and greater lengths to out-wit each other.

It takes a strong woman to make her mark between them, but Katherine – recently nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Michael Grandage’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – does just that.

“I have three brothers so I’m used to fighting.” she quipped. “After Midsummer Night’s Dream I wasn’t looking out for something like this, but then the opportunity came up and I couldn’t turn it down – to be a leading lady in the West End with your name in lights is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

“My only worry with Christine was that she was going to be bland, but the twist at the end reveals her to be sassy and fun.”

Katherine admits to not having seen the film – she didn’t want to ape another actress’s performance – and she says the audience don’t need to either.

“I would say sixty per cent of the audiences who come have seen the film, but 40 per cent haven’t,” she explained.

“It’s not the most obvious of films to make into a musical but what appealed to Jeffrey Lane, who wrote the show’s book, was its quirkiness and comic aspect and that works brilliantly as a musical.”

Mischief is also provided by Samantha Bond. The Downton Abbey and James Bond actress is mesmerising as she glides around the stage as Muriel Eubanks, a glamorous divorcee looking for love on the French Riviera.

A masterclass in theatrical acting if ever I’ve seen one.

•Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is running at The Savoy Theatre, Strand, London. Tickets are £24.50 - £67.50 from Tel. 0844 871 3046 and www.scoundrelswestend.com.