Writer: Michael Gyngell
Directors: Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Under the leadership of business partners Serena and Robert, the Club Tropicana hotel has gone from strength to strength and is now a real contender for Hotel of the Year. However, with the arrival of the incognito inspector imminent, they realise too late that they’ve been the victim of a dirty tricks campaign. Can Serena, Robert and entertainer (and all round good egg) Garry pull it off?
Meanwhile, in England, Lorraine is having doubts about her marriage to Olly, jilting him by phone. You wouldn’t want a honeymoon going to waste so she and supporters Andrea and Tracey set off to enjoy all that Club Tropicana can offer. And by the weirdest of coincidences, who else should turn up than Olly, Drew and Blaine, all intent on diving into the dating pool once again.
The scene is set with the arrival of the snooty Christine. Robert, much to the chagrin of Serena who has long carried a torch for him, is entranced by Christine and doesn’t seem to notice that she is pumping him for information about the hotel.
Club Tropicana doesn’t aim to be great art; it aims to be a fun night out, a tribute to those package holidaymakers in the 1980s exploring Europe and especially Spain for the first time. There’s a distinct feel of a grown-up panto about it. It borrows indiscriminately – it isn’t hard to spot the influence (and some plot lines) of Fawlty Towers, Crossroads, the later Carry Ons, practically every 1980s BBC sitcom (especially Hi-de-Hi!), even Private Lives. And the plot is, indeed, wafer-thin. Such twists as there are are pretty predictable in a script shored up by some truly groan-inducing one-liners and innuendo that one feels would make Mr Humphries and Mrs Slocombe stop short.
Nevertheless, Club Tropicana is a fun, upbeat, neon experience. It avoids the trap of taking itself too seriously that so many insubstantial jukebox musicals fall into – it knows exactly what it is and makes no pretence of being anything else, giving the audience the occasional wink to acknowledge that. Yes, the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes, but the amount of energy onstage is impressive.
Joe McElderry, ten years on from his X-Factor triumph, plays Garry, a true force of nature. McElderry is a great showman and is developing at pace as an excellent all-round entertainer. He carries much of the weight of the show on his pink-clad uber-camp shoulders – rather like a misplaced Buttons. His voice remains vibrant, too. Emily Tierney brings an unremitting unpleasantness to Christine – she has no redeeming characteristics and wouldn’t be out of place as Cinders’ wicked stepmother. One really can’t see how she captivates Neil McDermott’s Robert, the hotel’s harassed manager. Amelle Berrabah draws on her experience as a Sugarbabe to provide some of the few serious moments – when she sings Only You, the effect is rather lovely.
Much of the comedy is brought to us by Kate Robbins’ Consuela, a Spanish cleaner of indeterminate age. Robbins really shines, her physical comedy is perfectly timed while her singing voice and impressions still impress. Her character owes much to the pantomime dame tradition. The rest of the characters seem almost underplayed by comparison: Rebecca Mendoza brings a playfulness to Tracey (who hopes she might benefit from the calling-off of Olly and Lorraine’s marriage) while Kane Verrall’s Blane is a perfect foil to McElderry.
The small onstage band occasionally feels underpowered but nevertheless, the songs are performed well, backed up by sharp period-inspired choreography from Nick Winston. Diego Pitarch’s set design allows for quick transitions although it does feel insubstantial.
The songs have been chosen well (and don’t, bizarrely, include Club Tropicana) so that they fit well with the storyline, such as it is. They certainly had this press night audience singing, clapping and dancing along. And for all its shortcomings, one can’t ignore the energy onstage and the fun experienced by the audience. No, Club Tropicana won’t be winning any awards, but it will be leaving audiences with smiles on their faces.
Runs Until 4 May 2019 and on tour | Image: Contributed