We Will Rock You
Book by Ben Elton, music and lyrics by Queen
Review by Philip Fisher
Despite almost universal critical hatred (there is no other word) when it opened, We Will Rock You is now eight years old and still going strong at the Dominion Theatre at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, despite Crossrail's attempts to hide it behind construction works.
It might initially have seemed like a marriage of opposites bringing together the music of Queen and a script penned by Ben Elton. The band is universally popular for anthems that have an almost orchestral scope and the unforgettable exhibitionist performances of their front man, Freddie Mercury (did you know that he was born Farrokh Bulsara?) who died far too young almost two decades ago.
Elton is quite another kettle of fish. He rose to fame as a bolshie and extremely funny stand-up comedian who enjoyed nothing better than socking it to the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher on Friday Night Live in the late 1980s before writing scripts for The Young Ones and Blackadder. Somehow, the radical then mellowed into a popular novelist and book writer for musicals, most recently the Phantom sequel Love Never Dies.
How could anyone fail to fall in love with We Will Rock You and want to come back time and again? That depends on what you require from a musical. 2,000 people every night prove the production's popularity and that could continue for many more years.
The show has all of the strengths and all the weaknesses of an archetypal jukebox musical. Queen fans will be in raptures as the live performers run through the band's back catalogue, accompanied by a rock concert lightshow designed by Willie Williams, tremendous computer and video images from Williams and the show's designer, Mark Fisher; and Arlene Phillips' predictable pop video choreography.
They can sing and clap along to everything from Radio (not Lady) Gaga at the beginning to the title song at the end, followed by an encore of Bohemian Rhapsody. All of the favourites are included and the arrangements will appeal to fans.
Less appealing is Mr Elton's book. The drama takes place in 2310 after music has been outlawed. It follows the 1984/Brave New World (or even Wizard of Oz) formula as renegade kids try to overthrow repressive authority.
Its latest cast is led by former X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards playing a quasi-fearsome Killer Queen. This represents strange casting, as while she acts and sings perfectly well, a soul singer is not an obvious choice for this style of music.
Our hero is Galileo Figaro, played by the fresh-faced Ross Hunter who sings far better than he acts. His "chick" is the tiny Scaramouche. Amanda Coutts is a revelation in this role, with talent as a comic character actress and a clear, powerful voice that should mark her out for a glittering future.
The potential saviours of the universe escape the clutches of Killer Queen and more particularly her right-hand man, the pantomime-evil Khashoggi, Alex Bourne doing the melodrama well enough to compensate for adequate rather than show stopping singing.
This pair pursue the incipient young lovers into an underground underworld, where every line seems to be borrowed from a rock song and the comedy is packed with the kinds of limp (cue for a snigger) double entendres that we all thought had died with the music hall.
The evening also contains a mystery worthy of The Mousetrap. Ben Elton's plot is written entirely to link up Queen's Greatest Hits and lasts 2½ hours. In principle, this is fine but since the show runs for 2¾ hours, it would be great to know why the plot disappears without trace well before the final song?
None of this matters that much as We Will Rock You continues to provide what its audience demands - lashings of energy, spectacle worthy of a rock video and wall-to-wall Queen hits.
Dear Freddie may be dead but Long Live the Queen and their popular tribute.