After seven years in London’s West End, the Queen musical We Will Rock You has started its first UK tour. Yet even with writer Ben Elton’s best efforts to muddy proceedings, the glut of legendary rock anthems and power ballads performed by a stellar cast and band can’t fail to entertain.
Taking place in a future where musical instruments are banned, we follow a group of Bohemians who must defeat the repressive creators of manufactured music in order to achieve their rhapsody. Elton must have worked tirelessly to come up with such a ridiculous and convoluted plot. His mission of piecing together Queen’s back catalogue so that their lyrics make something resembling sense is tiresome and unnecessary.
Elton tries desperately to be ironic and up-to-date with his humour – Big Brother and Teletubbies are referenced -and the result is something reminiscent of panto. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Darren Day certainly gives Grant Stott a run for his money as sunglass-wearing villain Khashoggi. We couldn't care less about the lack of character development, emotional engagement and an unbalanced narrative arc: this never pretends to be Pinter. It would just be nice to be spared the lazy jokes about Scary Bush, evil 'pluckers' and Shagaleo Gigolo.
As expected, David Beer’s band are fantastic and the cast sing as if their existence depends on it. Brenda Edwards steals the show as the megalomaniac Killer Queen; her powerhouse vocals in ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ demonstrate exactly why she got the semi-finals of X-factor a few series back. Falkirk girl and I’d Do Anything finalist Ashley Russell (see Interviews, 9 Oct 2009) puts in a great comic turn as an evil Jean Brodie-esque teacher. It is just a shame the strong ensemble are so desperately underused. The recurring situation of two actors onstage alone is underwhelming especially in one of the UK’s largest theatres.
Mark Fisher’s disappointing design doesn't help the situation. He is an architect renowned for his work on large-scale gigs, so unsurprisingly he uses video screens and trucks in depicting this futuristic world. Yet the lack of continuity between settings, mean Willie Williams and Tim Goodchild have to go into overdrive with their fabulous lighting and costumes.
First night crowds are usually ultra-loyal and slightly unhinged in their unbridled love for whatever is on stage. Monday’s however, seem subdued with a few choosing to leave during the second half. That is until Brian May and Roger Taylor appear for a surprise visit to play ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. If you’re willing to leave your mind at home, assemble a load of friends, have a few glasses of wine and cheer along you wildly, you should have a memorable night.