We Will Rock You

Music and lyrics by Queen, book by Ben Elton
Phil McIntyre, Queen Theatrical Productions and Tribeca Theatrical Productions
Palace Theatre, Manchester

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We Will Rock You production photo from the 2009 tour

Can the 11 million people who paid to see the musical We Will Rock You during its record-breaking run be wrong? After watching the latest incarnation of the show at the Palace Theatre in Manchester this reviewer thinks that, yes, they can.

Laden with 24 of Queen's greatest hits, We Will Rock You promises much. The cast features former Hear'Say member Noel Sullivan who recently received plaudits as Danny in Grease in London's West End, and Amanda Coutts as Scaramouche, a belter of a singer despite her diminutive frame. Not to mention the book's author Ben Elton, best-selling novelist and co-author of the Blackadder television series. As if that wasn't enough, the ubiquitous Arlene Phillips choreographed the production.

So far, so good. And then the curtain goes up. To say the plot is thin would be an understatement. To make matters worse, it's baffling. The audience is presented with a fantastical vision of the future, but this is a future vomited up by an 80s' idea of the world years from now. Think Back to the Future II without any of the good stuff.

Planet Mall is under the control of Globalsoft, a corporation that has banned live music, instruments and songs and instead feeds computerized identikit pop to the masses. There are two rebels, Galileo and Scaramouche: the former hears excerpts of ancient lyrics and the latter wants to break free of the Ga Ga girls.

Cue the entrance of members of the Bohemian gang who all worship ancient musical texts from a time they call Rhapsody. Think Mad Max without any of the good stuff. After they join forces with our two heroes, they are all hunted down by the tyrannical Killer Queen and her chief of police, Khashoggi.

But lo, what is this? Pop, a hippie librarian played by Ian Reddington, who tells of a mythical band called Queen .you can see where this going, right?

We Will Rock You may be billed as a "sell-out phenomenon" but this must surely be attributable to the timeless appeal of Queen's repertoire. The musical's dialogue is clichéd, cheesy and downright rubbish. One of the recurring jokes is a play on Scarmouche's name. "Scary bush, is it?" says a bohemian. Then there is the hilarity of the Killer Queen and her bikini wax. And yes, there was a beaver quote at the end of the scene.

Sullivan, Coutts and Jenny Douglas as Meat are outstanding but even they and the magnificent Queen can't save a show that substitutes purple hair, Madonna corsets and a statue of Freddie Mercury for plot and spectacle.

In the midst of panto season and with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs playing down the road at the Opera House, it was tempting to shout out "We Will Rock You? Oh not you won't" during some of the most dire set-pieces. A better evening would be had by staying at home and listening to Queen's Greatest Hits on the stereo. Or watching the Muppets' parody of the Bohemian Rhapsody video.

"We Will Rock You" runs until 15th January, 2011

Reviewer: Helen Nugent

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