I wasn’t lucky enough to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when it played in the West End a few years ago, but I’d heard great things about the show, so I jumped at the chance to review it for Sardines. Set on the French Riviera, it involves con men (and a con woman), plenty of dancing French maids and buckets of scandal!
Cygnet Players are based in South West London, which is fairly unknown territory to me, and pretty far from home, but I’m extremely glad I made the trip. I don’t think I was alone, as this group obviously have a lot of fans… the whoops and cheers from the audience as each principal came on stage was something I haven’t experienced at an amateur show before!
I think the cast took a little while to warm up, which is often the way on opening night. There were a few tiny teething problems, like a spotlight not quite being in the right place or set/other people being bumped into, but the cast soon settled comfortably into the rhythm of the show. At this point, I had started to notice that whoever was operating the off-stage smoke machine was perhaps becoming a little trigger happy. The light puffs of smoke coming from stage right never seemed to stop, until we were eventually watching everything through a light fog. Unfortunately, this meant that the company’s rhythm was abruptly halted when the fire alarm went off and we all had to be evacuated. The whole thing was dealt with very professionally however, and although the cast had been stopped mid-number, they got straight back into it as if nothing had happened. Well done to all for not being thrown by this little interlude.
It was fantastic to see such a large cast on stage (as many groups I know struggle with this), but during the first number, if you’d have closed your eyes, you probably wouldn’t have guessed. The principals could be heard perfectly, but the levels weren’t quite right when the chorus started singing. A large portion of them looked to be miked, so this seemed strange, but the sound did improve throughout the show. The company utilised the whole theatre well; for example, a balcony was used several times to great effect and members of the cast often entered or exited through the audience. My favourite was during Love is in My Legs, a thoroughly enjoyable, comic love song, which saw the ensemble come through the audience in black gospel robes holding candles! A lovely touch.
Although I can’t confess to loving a lot of the music in the production, this of course isn’t the society’s fault, and they delivered every song and dance with energy and aplomb. I was impressed with the choreography and the level of dance ability in the show. With so many people on stage (there are 29 ensemble listed in the programme), it could have looked like chaos up there, but the dances managed to incorporate and showcase everyone without looking a busy mess.
I also absolutely adored all the costumes. The whole show was a rainbow of colour and each scene brought new outfits for most of the cast. I liked that the leading ladies, Christine and Muriel, each had their own colour palette, one in yellow and one in pink respectively. The only thing that slightly disappointed me were Christine’s very low character shoe heels. This probably sounds like a very silly and picky point, but she had a beautiful dress and gorgeous legs, which looked much nicer when she changed into higher dance shoes later in the show. Charlotte Donald who played the part is fairly tall, so maybe doesn’t like to add to her height, but as a personal preference, I think two or three inch character shoes look so much better. However, this is the only negative I could possibly come up with about Charlotte! A fantastic voice, a great character actress, warm and believable, she was great to watch.
As for the other principals, Lawrence is a huge part, and Jonny Clines handled it well. Although he didn’t have the strongest voice, he held the show together easily and I grew to like him more as the show went on. Russell Hughes as Freddy reminded me of comedy actor Will Ferrell, which is intended as a big compliment! He was hilarious, especially as Lawrence’s slightly insane “brother” Ruprecht. However, the comedy duo that really came into their own during act two was Katy Thomspon and Russell Bramley as Muriel and Andre. They were perfect together, and their post-coital scene on the balcony was laugh out loud funny. Russell particularly had exceptional comic timing throughout. I also can’t forget to mention Rachel Kitchen as Jolene, a glitter wearing cowgirl from Oklahoma who wants to marry Lawrence. The phrase that jumps to mind is pocket rocket! She was brilliant and I was sad she didn’t reappear in her role again in act 2.
My overarching opinion as I left the theatre was that this was a very high standard of amateur show (and I should know, having seen a few hundred in my lifetime…). It was funny, energetic, glamorous and a pleasure to watch. If opening night was that good, then by Saturday, they’ll be raising the roof.