After last year’s fringe success Johnson and Boswell: Late but Live, Stewart Lee returns having penned another historical reanimation, this time turning his comedic eye towards the infamous relationship between England’s supposed ‘Virgin Queen’, and her favoured courtier and probable lover, Sir Walter Raleigh.
However, where the former offering was well written and sharply performed, this show feels flat and half-baked by comparison. In setting a high standard last year, expectations were always going to be hard to live up to, and the night proves sadly underwhelming.
Miles Jupp plays the arrogant, caddish Raleigh without an ounce of depth, relying purely upon an exaggerated rakish stereotype. This, of course, can be extremely funny when used in moderation (think of Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart character in Blackadder), but suffers when it has to carry the majority of the show as the larger half of the double-act. Simon Munnery’s Elizabeth is slightly more interesting, providing many of the better gags, and constantly upbraiding the youthful suitor for his lack of regal respect.
The evening is certainly not lacking in laughs. There are some nicely polished jokes about foreigners (the blurb for the show gleefully proclaims ‘xenophobia’ as one of its selling points), the unsurprisingly humourous man-in-drag innuendos, a brilliant scene about the Spanish Armada, as well as a few other well constructed set-pieces. Overall, though, there is too much of a lull between these peaks, with carelessly put-together transitions, and simply weak material. It’s not so much a bad night out as just a disappointing one.
If this play had been written by an up-and-coming student group, rather than an undeniable comic genius, then it could have been a worthy effort. Unfortunately, though, it seems to be a hastily cobbled together money-spinner looking to cash in on the Late but Live format’s previous acclaim. Let’s hope that, if he decides to wheel out another historical two-hander next year, Lee produces something much tighter and, dare I say, funnier, next year.