We Will Rock You

Queen and Ben Elton
Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil McIntyre Live Ltd and Tribeca Theatrical Productions
Grand Opera House, York

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The cast Credit: Johan Persson

When We Will Rock You was first unleashed upon London audiences back in 2002, the critical response was far from kind: “trite and tacky” opined The Independent; “stupid and totally vacuous” cried The Daily Mail; “prolefeed at its worst” shrieked The Daily Telegraph. In stark contrast, audiences immediately fell in love with Ben Elton’s dystopian take on Queen’s back catalogue, and We Will Rock You is now one of the West End’s longest-running shows.

Inspired by The Matrix, which was released three years before, Ben Elton’s demented plot unfolds in a distant future where the world (now referred to as the “iPlanet”) is controlled by the all-powerful Globalsoft Corporation. In this Orwellian landscape of conformity, music is outlawed by the supervillain Killer Queen (Jenny O’Leary) who longs to eliminate the planet’s last few remaining free-thinkers.

Our hero, Galileo Figaro (Olivier nominee Ian McIntosh), refuses to fit in with the crowd, and with the help of a kindred spirit, Scaramouche (Elena Skye), sets out to bring music back to the world. On their journey, they are aided by a motley crew of fellow black sheep known as the Bohemians.

Ben Elton has done a decent job of wrestling 24 of Queen’s biggest hits into a coherent narrative. As one would expect from the writer of Blackadder, there are some good jokes scattered amongst the rock anthems, but I was not particularly absorbed by the show’s storyline which sputters out at the end in an anticlimactic showdown.

Ian McIntosh gives an engaging and committed performance as Galileo, although his character becomes a chauvinistic bore as the evening progresses. Elena Skye has some amusing moments as Scaramouche, particularly when she punctures Galileo’s pomposity, but her character is mostly written as a two-dimensional Strong Woman. On a more positive note, both performers have excellent voices.

There are enjoyable supporting turns from Michael McKell, David Michael Johnson and Martina Ciabatti Mennell as three of the Bohemians, but the star of the show is Jenny O’Leary, who brings considerable camp energy and pizzazz to the role of Killer Queen. Her barnstorming rendition of “The Show Must Go On” was a particular highlight.

Under Ben Elton’s direction, the production proceeds at a steady pace, and there are some enjoyably outré costumes—the Bohemians, for example, resemble extras from the Mad Max universe.

Your reaction to We Will Rock You will undoubtedly depend upon your attitude to Queen. Whilst never a personal favourite, I’ve always had a soft spot for the band’s pop theatrics. The performers’ strong voices, supported by a talented live band, means that the production is often diverting, but I must confess that I found the overall experience rather underwhelming.

Reviewer: James Ballands