On Thursday May 22nd 2014 I took my seat amongst a small but appreciative audience to see an old friend come to life again on the stage. As a huge fan of the 1980’s comedy Duty Free I was delighted to see three of the original cast reprise their roles to advance the story some 30 years. Keith Barron (David), Gwen Taylor (Amy) and Neil Stacy (Robert) were joined by Carol Royale who played Linda. She stepped into the role beautifully when Joanna Van Gyseghem was unable to join the stage show due to other work commitments. With the old character of Carlos the waiter being around as well, the cast was dyed so to speak for an evening of spectacular misunderstandings and gentle fun.
The simple stage setting was lovely, bright and cheery with the obvious topical Spanish guitar music occasionally in the background. It certainly transported me away from the grey skies, torrential rain and cool evening air of Stoke, to the balmy climate of the San Remo Hotel in Spain. The props were designed in such a way that you could easily envisage a pathway down to the beach, a balcony or a sun-bathing area.
The play begins with the rendezvous of David Pearce and Linda Cochran at the San Remo for what is hoped to be a clandestine holiday together, although they are in separate rooms, highlighting once again David’s working class and Linda’s upper-middle class backgrounds. To be together Linda is taking advantage of her husband Robert being away on business, whilst David has spun a tall tale to his wife Amy about accompanying a friend on holiday. Both David and Linda are clearly enamoured by one another and the idea of “romantic love”, away from their respective safe, reliable and boring partners. They are photographed together by a young honeymoon couple Jeremy & Clare, who see them as the ideal example of being together for many years!!!! So confusion reigns supreme when Amy Pearce and Robert Cochran arrive unexpectedly to scupper the dream lover’s plans. Added to this are the reactions of Carlos who sees everything but understands nothing (or does he)? This cocktail of chaos, innuendo and misunderstandings ensures some genuine laugh out loud moments.
Keith Barron’s voice has a marvellous resonance to it that means the slightest inflection of a word can give a sentence a whole new meaning. Apart from the shock of white hair he is just the same whilst Gwen Taylor hardly looks a day older than her Duty Free TV days. Her “dead-pan” no nonsense delivery of words was just as devastating and funny as before. Neil Stacy again hardly looks any different and he delivered his lines with that posh panache that can be endearingly funny or incredibly irritating. However the way the script was written there is no way you could be irritated. The character of Robert Cochran seems to be a typical well-to-do Brit with a deep suspicion of “Johnny Foreigner”, and the description of Robert’s work company and the litany of take-overs surrounding it, was absolutely spot on with how business works these days. Eric Chappell’s incisive writing allows you to laugh at things that you may not always laugh at, because he can highlight brilliantly the absurdity of a situation. Carol Royale was terrific as Linda, and her exercise routine on the balcony was reminiscent of a Jane Fonda workout and pure class.
The honeymoon couple Jeremy and Clare who misunderstand the older couples’ situation were great. In fact I couldn’t help but think they were a blend of the four main characters. Jeremy had the vague hen-pecked aura of David and the posh pompous manner of Robert. Clare on the other hand had the girl-like idealised notion about love similar to Linda, but with the dead-pan realistic delivery of Amy. In some ways they could have been the off-spring of them all. Now there’s thought!!!
Touring British Theatres from April 15th until September 6th 2014.