I love a bit of irony. You probably know that Thomas Cook was the founder of mass tourism as we know it. Nearly 200 years ago, he built a business running excursions and tours around Britain and then onto the continent, introducing the use of designated tickets, hotels and restaurants; the precursor to the now standard package holiday. Thanks to Thomas, millions of us swarm off every summer for a week of skin-blistering sun, all-you-can-eat buffets and cheap booze-fuelled drunkenness.
The irony is however, that one of Cook’s first excursions in 1841 was organised for a group of his fellow temperance campaigners, to go to a teetotal rally in Loughborough. If only he could see his clients now. Luckily, Derren Litten, creator and writer of the TV series Benidorm certainly can, and has entertained audiences since 2007 with this award-winning TV comedy, acutely capturing the antics and behaviours of Brits on holiday abroad. Now in its 10th and final series on TV, it has been re-imagined, and transformed into a stage production that is now touring the country, boasting a run of 235 shows. A similar number to the amount of pints of lager your average Brit would drink over a two-week holiday at Litten’s creation, the Neptune Bar at the Solana Resort, Benidorm. All inclusive.
Over the 10 series, characters have come and gone, died, or developed to keep pace with the plot. The series has consistently attracted big names in British comedy and entertainment, either playing characters or starring as themselves, including Jonny Vegas, Joan Collins, Sheridan Smith, Cilla Black and Sue Pollard. Fans of the series will be delighted to know that two of the characters who have starred since the very first episode will be appearing in the stage version: Jake Canuso as the lothario barman, Mateo Castellanos, and Janine Duvitski as Jaqueline Stewart, the original swinger. Other stars from the series include Adam Gillen (Liam), Sherrie Hewson (Joyce Temple-Savage), Shelley Longworth (Sam), and Tony Maudsley (Kenneth).
So, to a full auditorium at the New Victoria, the stage was set with familiar scenes; the backdrop of a ubiquitous holiday resort, aka the Solana, the Blow and Go Salon, and the infamous Neptune’s Bar. Litten, who wrote the stage show as well, didn’t disappoint his fans. The plot was similar in storyline to what audiences would expect in an episode; a crisis at the three-star hotel that led to a potential personal compromise and resolution, with plenty of happy camp humour and sexual innuendos throughout.
In this stage production, Litten creates a recognisable narrative from the series drawing on the strong identities of the cast. A stereotypical “posh couple” arrive at the hotel, after being double-booked at a boutique-style hotel more in line with their social status. The staff at the Solana believe them to be hotel inspectors and do whatever they can to win their favour, under the veiled threat of closure. After several futile attempts to impress, they realise that they are not, in fact, inspectors, and they have been wasting their time and energy on the wrong people.
It didn’t take long before the audience were laughing along with the familiar characters and jokes. The ongoing karaoke theme translates well to stage and additional dance routines add another dimension to the TV shows. Although not a follower of the series myself, it didn’t take me long to catch on and join in the fun. I found myself giggling at the double entrendres and misconstrued smutty humour. I too fell under the spell of the sexy Spanish waiter, Mateo, whose lascivious winks and eye contact with the audience on the front row made me hope he would look across in my direction. I think he surprised us all by a rather good performance of a flamenco in the second act. Not just a pretty face. The full cast song and dance routine at the finale went on maybe a little too long, a little like the series, but the audience loved it, standing, clapping and cheering in appreciation.
The show is a happy celebration of the success of the series. Although more pantomime than satire, it is simply good fun. Whether you are a fan of the series or a fan of people-watching on a package holiday, Benidorm Live! may bring a ray of Costa sunshine into your life and remind you it’s time to book your summer holiday.
Benidorm Live Is running at the New Victoria theatre, Woking from Monday 28 January to Saturday 2 February at 7.30pm, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm.
[Amanda Briggs, January 2019]