Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
You either like Benidorm or you don’t.
If you like the TV show, you’ll love the live show. If you don’t, you’ll hate it.
Thankfully, I love the show.
I’d never given Benidorm a second glance. I’d seen it advertised and it didn’t appeal. Modern ITV comedies have a bad reputation for a reason – they’re usually shit. I assumed Benidorm would be no different.
But one evening, flipping through Netflix I came across it and for some reason gave it a go. Perhaps it was the still of Steve Pemberton. The League of Gentlemen is one of the all-time great TV shows, so Benidorm must have something going for it, otherwise Pemberton wouldn’t go near… would he?
Halfway into the first episode, and it was evident I had I cruelly misjudged Benidorm. It turned out to contain some brilliant comic performances and incredibly funny writing, courtesy of Derren Litten.
I was hooked, and was sad to see it go when the tenth and final series ended in 2018.
But then along came Benidorm Live; a touring production of the show starring many of the show’s cast members.
It feels exactly like the TV show, and that’s a good thing. The various plotlines include an undercover hotel inspector, a posh couple forced to slum it at the Solana and a misunderstanding about who is and isn’t a swinger.
It’s outrageous, camp, and Carry-On esque and it’s no surprise it’s been a sell-out on every stop of its tour.
The cast are all playing characters they have spent years playing on TV, so it’s something they can do in their sleep. There are a couple of stand-outs though. Jake Canuso is very good as Mateo, and his dance scenes are genuinely impressive. Kenneth (Tony Maudsley) is even more grotesque in real life. The bitchy comments come thick and fast, but it’s the little things that really nail it, such as the way he slides a cake he’s holding onto a chair by going between his legs when he stands. The production doesn’t make a big thing of it – it’s not a big laugh moment – but there’s something about the automatically unpleasant way he does it that speaks volumes.
Unfortunately, Kenneth’s best friend Liam (Adam Gillen) is the weak link. When the character first appeared in the TV show, he seemed to be intellectually deficient. The TV show rightfully allowed Liam to develop and by the end of series 10 it was obvious he was just a regular – albeit quirky – guy. In Benidorm Live, Liam has regressed and is once again irritating and someone who seems like they’d have trouble dressing themselves. I don’t know why this decision was made, but it’s the wrong one.
The pacing of the production isn’t quite right, either. While the first half is tightly-written and hilarious, the second is flabby and thrown together. Plot lines and mysteries are resolved, but it’s all padded out with cabaret performances. Some are welcome (Jake Canuso’s flamenco and Shelley Longworth’s solo song), others are not.
It’s a relatively short show (just two hours including an elongated interval) so there’s room for the second half to receive a little more attention.
These are small problems, but if Benidorm Live gets another tour, I’d like to see them ironed out.
Ultimately, it’s a brash, hilarious, lively swansong that proves there’s still an audience out there eager for more.