Duty Free

June 3, 2014 | By More

✭✩✩✩✩ Wearisome

King’s Theatre Mon 2 – Sat 7 June 2014

A lame retread of past successes, Duty Free is a slow and thoroughly unsatisfactory affair.

Gwen Taylor as Amy and Carol Royle as Linda. Photo © Keith Pattison

Gwen Taylor as Amy and Carol Royle as Linda. Photo © Keith Pattison

David Pearce and Linda Cochran have escaped to the same Spanish hotel where they met 30 years ago in Eric Chappell and Jean Warr’s popular 80s sitcom. However, their respective spouses Amy and Robert soon turn up unexpectedly, seemingly scuppering their plans for a romantic liaison….

There can be no doubt that this production is aimed entirely at those with fond memories of the original programme, which should be a sizeable market judging by huge audience figures and a continuing life on ITV3. However, that audience has been sold short by this unpleasant rehash.

Even the most indulgent fans will be hard pressed to find much to entertain them in this slow-paced, creaky affair, while newcomers will simply be bewildered. Either way, the sound of laughter is largely absent. This is not surprising when much of the supposed comedy comprised mother-in-law jokes and offensive remarks about other nationalities. This thoroughly dated material was mixed in with a plot that seemed to be nothing more than a retread of the original series.

The two new characters, a younger couple on their honeymoon, seemed to be introduced largely to pad out the running time with some laboured mistaken-identity plots. Despite the best efforts of James Barron and Maxine Gregory these roles remained little more than ciphers.

There was little more in the way of character development all round. By definition, sitcom participants often remain static, being essentially trapped by their surroundings. Over the course of a play, however, there has to be some sort of evolution to hold the audience’s interest, especially if the gaps between jokes are as long as this.

“dated attitudes on display”

There seems to be a conflict here between acknowledging the obvious passage of time and simply reprising what was once popular. Some publicity gives the title simply as Duty Free, while elsewhere it is Last of The Duty Free, which might suggest an elegiac, wistful atmosphere or just evoke Last of The Summer Wine. Either way, this confusion extends to the concept of the show as a whole.

Neil Stacy as Robert and Keith Barron as David. Photo © Keith Pattison

Neil Stacy as Robert and Keith Barron as David. Photo © Keith Pattison

There are nods to the physical ageing of David (Keith Barron) in particular, and this could have given the whole thing an air of interesting melancholy, but this is not developed. Leaving aside the occasional references to landfill, mobiles and Specsavers, this could still have been in the 1980s, not least in the dated attitudes on display.

One element of the original programme that might have worked in 2014 was the class conflict between the two couples. However, any exploration of what may have taken place economically or socially in the last 30 years is skated over, and what is left provides no surprises and little interest.

Keith Barron could certainly have done with a more pensive version of his character to get his teeth into. As it is, he appears only too aware that he has done all of this many times before. Carol Royle as Linda is the only new performer in the central quartet, and strives hard to make the part her own, but is hampered by the fact that there seems to be little motivation for her character to be returning to the hotel with David in the first place.

Gwen Taylor (Amy) and Neil Stacy (Robert) at least attack their roles with gusto – Taylor’s spite and vengefulness are the only things that threaten to give the piece some life. Even so, there are too many fluffed lines and too many longueurs for comfort. Graham Elwell attempts to give his waiter Carlos some verve, but cannot compensate for the character’s embarrassing ‘comedy foreigner’ roots.

Writer Eric Chappell can be forgiven much on account of his track record; immortality would be assured for the creation of Rising Damp’s Rigsby alone. There is also no doubting the ability of the performers here, which just makes it all the more disappointing that this is such a damp squib. Real care has gone into some aspects of the production – notably Julie Godfrey’s excellent split-level set, which would be ideal for a classic farce. As a farce, this might just work – but at this pace, it falls decidedly flat.

Running time 2 hours including interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Mon 2 – Sat 7 June 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets from www.edtheatres.com
Tour website: www.kenwright.com

Click above to purchase the original TV series on DVD.

Last of the Duty Free on tour
2 – 7 June Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
9 – 14 June Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 440000 Book online
16 – 21 June Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
23 – 28 June Eastbourne
Devonshire Park
01323 412000 Book online

ENDS

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