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Oxford New Theatre

I try to accept “the given” of anything I see. But I am afraid that this time I simply cannot accept Club Tropicana. I tried. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to to indulge and niftily provoke my low tastes.

Instead I found it seriously dire throughout. I hate saying this because I thought the cast was working hard and professionally, and they were putting a lot of energy into what they were doing. I thought Nick Winston’s choreography went some way towards making it worth watching the goings on; and really liked the comedy of Kate Robbins. I did want to know more about the couple running the resort and could have used a backstory for the rather pointless character played by Joe McElderry.

It ain’t the production or the cast that I minded. I could even summon up some praises for the sets and costumes and lighting. It is the basic material that irritated the hell out of me. It was like a really bad attempt to recreate Hi-De-Hi. There was no wit, no self-awareness, no real irony or satire in the script. There were no contemporary references to offset things. We needed winks and nudges and a real sense of knowingness about how feeble the material actually was.

The plot arch of Club Tropicana is simply a warmed over series of events. That you have seen before. It is a story where you know the outcome within about the first five minutes and the journey to get there is unimaginative, cliché ridden and tacky. I wasn’t all that keen on the choice of music either, thinking that in the whole evening maybe two songs worked for the show. And where was the actual song Club Tropicana?

The mugging was outrageous. It’s a shame, because the cast is made up of some very good singers who know how to deliver the songs. I blame the director, Michael Gyngell, for the lack of any real satire and for all the ersatz energy. This is a show that really needs not to be presented by people going over the top for no good reason at all. The whole thing struck me as tacky and, at times, gross. It was also very camp, which can be a very good thing but somehow, here, isn’t. And it was way too broad ever really to be amusing or funny. You may have gathered by now hat I really do not rate this show. And I hate not rating it, because there are some very talented people up there on the stage.

For me, Club Tropicana was like a really tired seaside resort attempt at a kind of summer holiday pantomime. It could and should have been funny. It could have had the audience feeling real nostalgia. It think the show was meant to be going into the West End and that they are ironing out the problems on this tour. Well, there is simply too big a pile of ironing to do. Unless someone can apply some wit, true satire and real creative energy, we can only commiserate with the rather skilful, accomplished and highly professional cast of performers giving their all to a theatrical zombie. The show needs some heart, a rethink about who the characters are and what is troubling them. I was hoping for an approach to the old 1980s tropes that would be more like the way Singin’ in the Rain sent up the sillier side of the silent films. But you cannot send something up unless you have real knowledge of it as well as real affection for it. Think of the Marx Brothers sending up opera in A Night at the Opera. This was just doing Hi-de-Hi and a tired, recycled plot without any wit, irony, point or tenderness. I felt there was no love or warmth in the conception at all.

The paper-thin plot is not entirely a problem, because most jukebox musicals have paper thin plots. But such plots are usually created joyfully and with tongue in cheek. I am afraid that this show bites its tongue rather painfully. Club Tropicana could and should be outrageous, it should be exuberant. But for this member of the audience at least, it ain’t!

  • Musical
  • By Michael Gyngell
  • Directed by Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston
  • Choreography by Nick Winston
  • Cast includes: Joe McElderry, Neil McDermott, Kate Robbins, Emily Tierney, Cellen Chugg Jones, Amelle Berrabah, Rory Phelan, Rebecca Mendoza
  • Oxford New Theatre

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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