We Will Rock You, The Musical
Music: Queen; Book: Ben Elton
Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil Mcintyre Entertainments, Tribeca Theatrical Productions
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth
Perennially popular—seen by 16 million across 19 countries and with a 12-year West End run—We Will Rock You is… odd.
A veritable jukebox musical, shoehorning the redoubtable Queen back catalogue into a dystopian flimsy fantasy, is slick but silly, unsatisfactory but well-received.
‘Reimagining’ means resetting to a futuristic, electronic-driven age and updating lyrics to include ‘Internet’ and ‘cyber’ plus iconic song lines and titles here and there but the script is crass and unfunny yet the packed audience voted with their cheers, applause and standing ovation. Hmmm.
Ben Elton’s book disappoints. The once edgy, political stand-up comedian and writer (The Young Ones, Blackadder, Upstart Crow, Popcorn, Chart Throb, Friday Night Live and so much more) has strung together an insubstantial, obvious plot with more loose ends than a biker’s jacket. The script is obvious, double entendre-laden and mostly wooden in stark contrast to Lajos Turi Peter’s high octane choreography and Kentaur’s vibrant costuming.
It’s a future iworld where life is lived online, thoughts are controlled, potential is crushed and uniformity the heavily-enforced Gaga University ideal. Anti-social media persists and live music is anathema to the Brave New World Utopia.
But lurking in the underbelly are a band of anarchists—led by Freddie Starr / Mick Jagger hybrid Buddy Holly and the Crickets (master of the comic timing Doctors’ Dr Nick West, Michael McKell) and the scavenger-supreme Britney Spears (David Michael Johnson)—searching for ‘the vibe’, stretching plastic strings across a lunchbox and certain that somewhere there is an axe enclosed in rock and a star will lead them there.
Interesting themes are introduced—blind belief, reverence of the mundane and holy rock ’n’ roll texts—and immediately suffocated.
There is more than a little time warp—creaky, worn-out stereotypes and 2D flash—and there is definitely something of the Rocky Horror here, a camp classic with much strutting and smut—and Kentaur’s costuming either sci-fi sparkle or synthetic neon dreads, grunge and arty laddered stockings.
STUFISH Entertainment Architects’ simple, soaring, sliding set is enhanced by Treatment Studio’s techno projections but the live music is king (or rather Queen) here: the fantastic, mainly unseen, band absolutely rocks every anthem—all 25 of them—with guitarist Simon Croft (on board since 2003), complete with a Brian Mayesque ‘do’, particularly notable while the local sound production is precise and crisp.
Consummate belter Jenny O’Leary verges on the pantomimic as the borrowed-from-an-adult-game Killer Queen resplendent in weird wig, leather and lurex while sidekick mellow baritone / tenor Khashoggi (Barricade Boys’ Adam Strong) is all very bling and exceptionally long demise.
Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role nominee Ian McIntosh is a vexed Galileo Figaro, channelling random lines and song titles, while relative newcomer Elena Skye makes her mark as fashionista Scabby Bush with some great vocals, but it is sexy Amy Di Bartolomeo as Oz who steals the show.
Very clunky with a panto feel, it is an audience-pleaser despite major flaws.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell