Dirty Rotten insults

Robert Lindsay in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Photo: Johan Persson
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including 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.