Robert Tanitch reviews Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Savoy Theatre, London WC2
Bernard Shaw said every man over 40 is a scoundrel. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels began as a movie with Marlon Brando and David Niven in 1964 called Bedtime Story. It was remade with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in 1988 with the present title. There was also a musical with a book by Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek, which opened on Broadway in 2004, and now, somewhat belatedly, it’s here.
The dirty rotten scoundrels are two rival confidence tricksters who fleece rich women. One is well-bred and played by Robert Lindsay, very suave, very knowing and full of self-mockery. The other is a slob and played by Rufus Hound.
The older man becomes mentor and rival to the younger. They vie to see who can conquer an American heiress first. What the slob lacks in grace he makes up for in vulgarity. He has two ruses. The first is to pretend he is mentally challenged and the second is to pretend he is a wheelchair paraplegic. They are ruses which encourage the actor to be very crude and very self-indulgent.
Lindsay and Hound and the script are never as funny as you hope they are going to be. The show is terribly old-fashioned but not quite old-fashioned enough. The action takes place on the French Riviera and it feels as if it ought to be set in the age of the Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930’s.
The choreography for the most part has nothing to do with anything. It’s just there. Lizzy Connolly stops the show as a cowgirl in a send-up of Oklahoma!
On the press night a large part of the audience behaved as if they were a claque and cheered everything throughout in a ludicrously excessive and off-putting manner.