TIMES are supposed to have moved on, in British popular culture, from the days when sex was a naughty holiday pastime conjured up in a McGill postcard, and homosexuality a joke patiently played out by John Inman in Are You Being Served; but sometimes, faced with the full-on showbiz energy of a show like Benidorm Live!, at the Playhouse this week, it’s possible to wonder whether the changes are much more than skin deep.
Benidorm Live!, Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh ****
The Lottery Ticket, Oran Mor, Glasgow ***
Written by Derren Litten, and based on his own hit television series, the show is set in the hapless Solana Hotel on Spain’s Costa Blanca, and represents a kind of two-hour jaunt around British sitcom heaven, peopled by every stereotype in the book.
So there’s Sherrie Hewson as the would-be-posh proprietrix who can’t remember the Spanish waiters’ names, the legendary Tony Maudsley as gigantic and lavishly camp hairdresser Kenneth who queens it in the Blow-And-Go salon, lusty old salon owner Jacqueline – an elderly swinger played with gusto by Janine Duvitski – and Mateo, the essential Spanish barman with well oiled pecs and bulging Speedos. Not to mention the pretentious posh couple suspected of being hotel inspectors, whose presence throws the entire disorganised set-up into confusion.
And the point about all of this familiar stuff is that Ed Curtis’s production delivers it with such loving care, and such joie de vivre, that it all works brilliantly, bringing an evening of pure delight to an audience of ecstatic fans, who cheer every familiar and beloved star on their first appearance; I’d have said “entrance”, but this is a show so stuffed with double entendres that whole swathes of the language become hysterically naughty, from “sausage in cider” on the menu to a creaky shaft in Kenneth’s salon.
The show has exactly enough plot to make up a 30-minute episode, and therefore has to transform its second half into a long karaoke night in the Neptune Lounge – but who cares? There’s super-slick singing and dancing featuring a chorus of camp blokes in green, a witty set by Mark Walters, and goodwill by the bucket load; and although subtlety is in short supply, this is a show that delivers exactly what it says on the tin, with a generous heart, and bags of skill.
If a reminder is needed, though, that comedy British attitudes to foreigners can have serious consequences, then it comes in a sharp and poignant form in Donna Franceschild’s Play, Pie And Pint show The Lottery Ticket, which travels on to the Traverse next week. Salih and Jacek are both strangers in Glasgow, one from Poland, the other – our narrator Salih– fleeing from serious danger as a Kurd in Turkey, forbidden even to name his own people; and when they’re thrown out of their hostel and end up sleeping in Rhona’s bike shed, a series of sitcom-worthy events ensues, involving their hopeless efforts to help her with a plumbing problem in return for hard cash.
It has to be said that there’s something vaguely unconvincing about a play that equates the situations of a Polish citizen working in Scotland and an asylum seeker who lacks even the right to take a job. Yet there’s something beautiful about Franceschild’s evocation of Salih – movingly played by Nezli Basani – as a man whose deep faith carries him through an unbearable situation; and with Steven Duffy, he forms a memorable migrant labour duo, facing Helen Mallon as a Glasgow woman whose attitudes, it turns out, owe more to Alf Garnett than the Glasgow Girls, and offer a clear challenge to any complacent assumptions about the welcome faced by migrants, here in Scotland.
Benidorm Live! is at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, today, and at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 4-9 February 2019. The Lottery Ticket is at Oran Mor today, and at the Traverse, Edinburgh, next week.