Adam Bruce, Contributing Critic - United Kingdom
ITV’s beloved television series ‘Benidorm’, now over twelve years old, really has become a smash hit sitcom phenomenon. After its humble beginnings as a short series following the idiosyncratic mishaps of the Garveys, a northern family who venture on numerous holidays in an all-inclusive Costa del Sol resort, the series continued to evolve over a further ten seasons. Now, as the show is available to stream on Netflix, creator and writer Derren Litten has adapted his series for a new medium: the stage. Featuring some of the show’s mainstay characters, I was intrigued to see how the show had made the transition to a live setting, now entitled ‘Benidorm Live’.
Before we delve into the review, it’s important to briefly take a look at the evolution of the television series. The first three series of ‘Benidorm’ we’re sharply written, well-crafted pieces of British sitcom that brought memorable characters to the screen, primarily riffing on cringe comedy and sexual taboo in a familiar setting for many British holidaymakers.
Since the sad departure of the late Geoffrey Hutchings, an iconic British actor who portrayed the love interest of the Garvey family’s self-described old crone Madge, the series soon started to run out of puff. The once wildly funny scenarios, memorable characters and analysis of British cheap fun in the sun started to become tedious. Even after the introduction of new characters, the series gradually became tired and resorted to slapstick, unrealistic scenarios in an attempt to push boundaries even further, distancing itself from loyal fans in the process.
Several years later, we now have ‘Benidorm Live’, which is essentially a rehashing of those aforementioned later seasons crammed into a two hour run time. Original characters such as greasy womanising barman Mateo (Jake Canuso), swinger Jacqueline (Janine Duvitski), ultra-camp hairdresser Kenneth (Tony Maudsley) and his business partner Liam (Adam Gillen), as well as manageress Joyce Temple-Savage (Sherrie Hewson), find themselves trying to save their fading Solana Resort in the wake of an undercover hotel inspector’s imminent arrival. That is, in essence, pretty much it.
I must commend the original cast and a new accompanying ensemble for their energy, which never lets up as they bring Litten’s new adaptation to life. Ed Curtis’ direction smoothly brings what was once a figment of our screens to a live setting with a simple, straightforward flair that combines the talents of the scenographic team to present us with a solid adaptation that works surprisingly well, especially when stacked up against the source material’s firm roots as a TV sitcom. That is, however, where the good points end.
Litten’s writing, in an attempt to uphold the original tenets of the series whilst trying to cater to its original fans, has lost its sharpness that came from the subtlety of astute observation and is now sloppy and dangerously outdated in our contemporary world. The once hilarious sexual taboo and poised refrain present in the original series now disastrously lurches into an ugly blend of unwelcome sexism, misogyny and a satirisation of gay culture that is genuinely appalling. I sat astounded as a character called Big Gay Derek veered towards a younger and more vulnerable character in a horrendous predatory way, and audience members laughed; my question is, how would the audience feel had the younger, more vulnerable character been a woman? And how, in this age of a continuously evolving, forward-thinking equality mindset, is it acceptable to portray LGBT culture, and indeed a more modern, feminist, open-minded sense of culture, in such a distasteful and frankly horrendous backwards way?
Sharper writing akin to that in the earlier series of the show could have made ‘Benidorm Live’ a fantastic revival of the show’s roots that gave it such a cracking opportunity to cultivate a cult following. What we’re given here is a tired, outdated concept where only a few gags and interactions with the audience prevail. The standing ovation given by the audience is likely down to its adoration of their favourite characters physically appearing before them - it surely can’t be for the love of the grotesque comedic riffs displayed before hem. Do yourself a favour: pop onto Netflix, watch the first three seasons of the show, and observe some sharply written British comedy, but avoid this crude live rendition at all costs.
‘Benidorm Live’ is at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 23rd March. For more information, tickets and a full cast and creative list, visit: http://www.benidormonstage.com