After nearly ten years, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has finally swindled its way onto the West End stage – and what a treat it is, too. Based on the 1988 film starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin, the stage production first launched on Broadway back in 2005 and walked away with a stash of awards. Across the pond, we’re whisked away to the French Riviera, recreated in opulent style on a London stage populated by an unlimited supply of diamond-dripping, “corruptible” ladies.
Strategically placed to extract their fortunes is caddish conman Lawrence Jamieson played by Robert “Snake Hips” Lindsay, taking the reigns from king of suave, Michael Caine. The part fits him like the sort of exquisitely tailored gloves his character has grown accustomed to and 64-year-old Lindsay has certainly lost no spring in his step. His relishment of the role is a delight to watch as he shimmies and shoe-shuffles across the stage, sending up his own sophistication and, briefly, his cantankerous My Family dentist, Ben Harper.
But Lawrence’s patch in the affluent French coastal town of Beaumont Sur Mer comes under threat with the arrival of goonish Freddy Benson (Rufus Hound). Yin and yang, the two decide there ain’t room for the both of ’em and set their sights on wealthy soap heiress, Christine Colgate (Katherine Kingsley). The first to extract €50,000 from her purse stays in town; the loser packs his bags.
Hound – perhaps best known to many for his Cheryl Cole-inspired Sport Relief routine – makes his musical theatre debut. Yet again, he’s surprisingly twinkle toed and his comedic timing lends itself nicely to the play’s witty asides and self-deprecating jokes but he’s filling big shoes, here, and at time lives in Steve Martin’s shadow. His Freddy (literally) earns his laughs, enduring whippings, head butts and a mammoth tickling session in pursuit of his winnings, but he never quite matches Lindsay’s brilliance, although the pair enjoy an easy on-stage chemistry.
The introduction of Kingsley towards the end of the first half really ups the ante. With two Olivier Award nominations under her belt, the stage star brings some real chutzpah to proceedings, her booming vocals echoing up to the gods and back. Her Christine is a delight from the moment she steps on stage; goofy but charming, clumsy yet loveable, as she reels in her two oblivious suitors.
Matching her in class is Samantha Bond as wealthy divorcée Muriel Eubanks, a role largely expanded for the stage but for good reason. Bond is stage royalty but we’re frequently reminded that, despite her talent, she serves no real function to the production. Upon her character’s unexpected return to the Riviera, she quips “I can’t imagine I won’t be useful to someone in the second act”, fulfilling her own prophecy by embarking on an hilariously exhausting tryst with the town’s impossibly French police chief (John Marquez).
Peter McKintosh’s lavish gowns and “American Hustle” hairdos more than befit the show’s glamorous locations on the moneyed Riviera. And while the set is more purposeful than extravagant, it teems with action as exuberant routines – from line dancing to Latin – are matched with some deliciously camp lyrics (“If music be the food of love, he’s my smorgasbord.”)
“Give Them What They Want”, we’re told is the golden rule of a con artist. Well, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels certainly does – but far from feeling scammed, I walked out of the theatre more tickled than Freddy’s poor feet, thanks to a slick, well-executed production that hits all the right notes. A fitting tribute to Caine & co.
Tickets for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are available to buy now, via phone: 0844 871 3046 or online: scoundrelswestend.com
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news