Touring – reviewed at New Wimbledon Theatre, London
Guest reviewer: Amy Toledano
An eighties jukebox musical set on the sunny coast of Spain sounds like a fun night out. However, Club Tropicana highlights the ignorance of British people on all-inclusive holidays, trivialises and stereotypes entire communities of people (in this instance the LGBTQ+ and Spanish communities), and scrapes the bottom of the barrel for a story that has clearly been written in order to serve the eighties tracks, with one-liners that are the lowest common denominator of gags.
Starring former X-Factor contestant Joe McElderry as the Entertainment Manager of Hotel Tropicana, it is clear that the role was written with him in mind – there is an actual reference to X-Factor during the show. McElderry gives a performance that is highly energetic; in his first few moments onstage he addresses the audience directly and asks them all to get up so they can learn the choreography to one of the hotel’s favourite dance routines.
And while the audience enjoys this bit of connection with the one they all came to see, McElderry plays the classic, flamboyant gay stereotype who uses every euphemism in the book. Often the target of jokes, Gary The Entertainment Manager is one of many two-dimensional characters that make up this show.
Club Tropicana exhibits the usual narrative tropes and cliches we have seen time and time again: girl and boy get cold feet, set off to a tropical location with their best friends (one is always stupid, or ‘slutty’, or both), and end up at the same place at the same time. There is also the usual subplot of a sabotaging competitor, but in the end the beautiful people end up together and there is a double wedding. It is clear that the big appeal of the show is the music, with the plot playing second fiddle. The ensemble work overtime to keep the energy up and while they are all fantastic performers, the writing lets the production down.
There is one Spanish character in the entire show (apart from the flamenco trio who spend an offensive, mere 30 seconds onstage), named Consuela (Kate Robbins). She is depicted as ‘ugly’, ‘stupid’ and ‘rude’, her accent is a complete stereotype, and the gibberish that is attempted to pass as actual Spanish is ridiculous. It is upsetting that in a climate absolutely screaming out for this kind of pan-European work, this show feeds so deeply into the opposite, xenophobic mentality.
It is clear that Club Tropicana does not intentionally set out to offend, but perhaps that is the biggest problem. This show has obviously been written for an audience who accept being treated as incredibly unintelligent. Along with it’s tone-deaf ideologies it thinks that throwing in a few fart jokes and caricatures of our European neighbours passes as humour.
Club Tropicana runs through 27 April then tours.
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