Benidorm Live – Edinburgh Playhouse

I must confess to having neither attended an all-inclusive holiday, nor watched the television series Benidorm, which arguably means I was not the intended audience for Derren Litten’s stage adaptation of his hit show of the same name. That said, the main premise of theatre is to experience the world beyond our own, and doing so certainly livened up an otherwise dull Monday evening.

As follows from the series, all those working and staying at the Solana hotel, where the production is set, are caricatures of the general British public abroad. This, with varying levels of success, as it precariously treads the thin line between witty self-deprecation and ugly stereotyping. For example, Jacqueline’s insistence on Derek having enjoyed his journey, despite the multiple pitfalls he lists, is most British in her determined attempt at positivity in place of a discussion about actual feelings.

However, the depiction of a potentially gay relationship as a reoccurring punchline is rather disappointing for a show, which, I’m sure, would reject accusations of homophobia on the basis of its having a gay main character. In particular, I found the emphasis on the role of the predatory pursuer who refuses to accept that his love might be unrequited rather distasteful, as the ‘comedic effect’ relied not just on the characters’ supposed prejudices, but those of the audience as well.

Overlooking this, the main actors who feature in the actual television series, such as Jake Canuso, Sherrie Hewson and Tony Maudsley, were met with deafening cheers and applause from my fellow audience members. This was perhaps a little intimidating to a newcomer such as myself, but I soon felt all included in the Benidorm family. 

I was particularly impressed with the set, which was utterly convincing in its portrayal of what I imagine to be, at times, the uncomfortably intimate communal experience of the all-inclusive.  The use of spotlights to create separation between multiple characters simultaneously on stage was also effective in evoking this smothered environment.

Regarding the script itself, there is a striking correlation between this bawdy production and the usual tropes of Shakespearean comedy. There’s the classic cross-dressing, which isn’t all treated with derision, not to mention any attempt at normal dialogue is held ransom by outrageous sexual innuendos that abound throughout the script, and there’s even a marital twist thrown in for good measure.

For me, the most entertaining part is most certainly Jacqueline’s cabaret act. Played by the hilarious Janine Duvitski, her boundless sexuality threatens to overflow from the stage throughout the entire show, and culminates in a raucous crescendo of raunchy backup dancing and delightfully tone-deaf singing.

In fact, the musical numbers are the true highlight, which bind the pantomimesque chaos into a palatable show, due to genuine talent displayed by all of the well-loved tv stars.  Whilst I’m still not convinced that package holidays are my glass of sangria, Litten’s production of Benidorm has me converted to one aspect, if nothing else: the karaoke evenings seem like enormous fun.

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Georgia Turnbull

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