Dirty Rotten insults

Robert Lindsay in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Photo: Johan Persson
Robert Lindsay in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Photo: Johan Persson
Mark writes regularly for The Stage, including reviews from London and the regions, features and, since 2005, a daily online column.
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Just yesterday I mentioned here how producer Robert Fox had advised me, via a Twitter response to a comment I'd made about his production of Fatal Attraction, "time you got a life."

And last night, after finally catching up with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which I'd missed the opening of as I was in New York at the time) and tweeting about it afterwards, Robert Lindsay called me "a complete twat because like most critics you have no conception how to perform or even comprehend to sustain a show".

He's since deleted the comment, but I actually welcome it. It's good when artists get engaged (or even occasionally enraged) with what critics write. It gets both of us thinking. It also, inevitably, led to followers of both of us to take sides, mostly in support of him rather than me, which again I welcome: theatre is a dialogue, and there's always more than one opinion about it.

I don't, of course, fling out my opinions casually, and I thought long and hard about my disappointed reaction to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, as it was a show I was very much hoping to enjoy. I do, as regular readers know, like nothing more than a good musical; heck, I'll even accept a middling musical if it has some redeeming qualities.

In this case, I'd seen the original production in New York, and knew that it had some of those– a punchy, brassy score in particular, some comic potential in the characters (especially the one originated in New York by Norbert Leo Butz, and being taken here by Rufus Hound). But what I wasn't prepared for last night was how effortful it all felt. The cast were working their socks off, but it came with ever-diminishing returns.

It may well be that I was seeing the show at a 'soft' mid-week performance. (There were lots of empty seats in the dress circle behind me). For comedy to work, the audience needs to complete the journey that the actors are taking us on. And the (lack of) reaction may have pushed the actors to work too hard. So perhaps Lindsay is right: it's hard work sustaining a show.

But then theatre is always about those sort of chemical occurrences. When a show doesn't 'land' as its  creators and cast intend, the strain shows. And that's what I reported last night: it was my own reaction to the performance I'd just seen. Perhaps I was just unlucky. Much as I like to encourage and support the theatre, on this occasion I drew a blank. But I'm glad others are getting more pleasure out of it than I did.


  1. I must admit I adore the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and I too saw the show on Broadway. Having been shocked at the London ticket prices I still wanted to see the show and having been along I agree with your review. It is a great show but seemed hard work. In contrast I saw Blithe Spirit last week which was superb

  2. Getting a bad review or comment is always upsetting – but I don’t think it’s wise to hit back at the critic… Maybe correct a factual inaccuracy or react (calmly) to an insult you feel is personal rather than about the work – but that’s about it… Lick your wounds in private, see if there’s anything constructive to be learned from it, and move on…. that’s what I’d advice.

  3. Having seen this out of town (Manchester) I disagree, I think scoundrels is a great show, performed how it should be… Well!
    Ok if your lucky enough to have seen a better cast/production good for you, but keep it to yourself as we can’t see that production as it’s ended/finished gone, so you should never let that influence your review of a revival as times and tastes change and things are never fully repeated exactly.
    I have seen some Duffers in my time but I have also seen some shows that will be forever etched on my memory as being amazing performances, which if I see another version will make me judge if it was better/worse but if I made my living as a reviewer then that should NOT enter any accurate new review, as to me it’s not relevant.
    I always go to any show/performance with an open mind with the only expectation of being entertained. I have for the last 25 years been involved in amateur theatre, and I have seen some better performances in this arena than on the (so called) professional one! Should this be the case? I don’t think it matters if you come out with a smile on your face and feel you’ve not completely ripped of then any show has achieved its goal and this is not based on what I saw last time!…….
    My wife will agree with this as she is sick of seeing Private Lives, on every new production I can visit.

  4. I agree entirely with Mark. Never have I seen so much effort to look like its effortless but Robert Lindsay kills this show. He looked very pleased with himself throughout, I don’t know why.

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