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Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Sunderland Empire until June 13

Michael Praed plays conman Lawrence Jameson in the musical version of an 80s film starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Have you ever revisited a tale that once made you laugh and wondered why it did?

It must have happened to many of us although, to be honest, I can’t remember ever doubling up at Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the movie.

It was released in 1988 with Michael Caine and Steve Martin as rival conmen on the French Riviera. It got pretty good reviews but Caine lost out to Tom Hanks in Big at the Golden Globes.

That seems fair. Big had a lot of charm and Hanks was good as an over-sized kid.

Was the 1980s even a particularly funny decade at the cinema? Back then Beetlejuice made me laugh and so did Airplane! But now? Not so sure.

One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that this stage musical production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels did not make me laugh. Not at all.

It seemed pitched at the level of a baby’s cry, the evolutionary mechanism for making parents jump and attend to the current urgent need. My urgent need, pretty soon in, was for the exit.

Michael Praed and Noel Sullivan take on the Caine and Martin roles, the cultured English smoothie (Lawrence Jameson) and the shambolic but quick-witted Yank (Freddy Benson). Mark Benton, who usually puts in a reliably comic turn, plays Andre Thibault, bent copper and Lawrence’s stooge.

We have to believe – at least until the sting in the tail – that all women are so incredibly stupid that when they overhear someone referred to as a prince, they assume he’s a prince and hand over their jewels. Or that when some chancer spins a yarn on a train they’ll stand him a meal.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

There is no goodness or charm in the tale as told on stage. These are not lovable rogues, not like in The Producers which recently graced this stage.

Everything is soused in vulgarity, from the gags to the look of the thing. The Jolene routine is especially ghastly, the assault on eyes and ears not worth the tiny comic point it tries to score.

The entrance of brassily glamorous Christine Colgate (Carley Stenson), who is to be the ill-chosen subject of a bet between the two rivals, came just before the interval.

I know I should have stayed for the second half. It might have seemed better after a drink. It was a risk I couldn’t bear to take.

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