The Windsors: Endgame at the Prince of Wales Theatre – review
The Royal Family is brought to the stage
Jokes about the Royal Family – from the Archewell podcasts to the slightly seedier acts of certain princes – are like seizing the lowest hanging fruit out there. Stuffing them into a West End show could well have become the equivalent of scrolling for two hours through a Mock the Week "best bits" YouTube compilation. So it's with a fair bit of pleasure it's nice to admit – The Windsors is a down-the-middle, sturdy night out.
Shows that jump head-first into the Firm's sordid and surreal circumstances are no strangers to the West End – King Charles III being a marvellous example of how the stage and that iconic institution sit together like life-long chums. But The Windsors is a very different beast to the aforementioned – the sort of thing Mike Bartlett might have written if he'd inhaled five cannisters of nos in rapid succession after spending an evening puffing away around Camden locks. In short – it's wacky, bawdy, downright surreal and, while throwing everything at the wall, uses some hefty production values to make sure an admirable chunk of it sticks.
The real heroes here are set designer Madeleine Girling and costume designer Hilary Lewis – taking George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore's script (based on the pair's hit TV series of the same name) and pumping it full with a lavish, versatile and finely-crafted aesthetic. Buckingham Palace is captured in premium warm reds, while the plethora of royals paraded through the piece each sport the necessarily garish garbs that they've become known for over the last few decades.
The paper-thin story essentially sees the freshly crowned Charles, dim-witted yet endearingly captured by Harry Enfield (who also leads the TV series the show's based on, and twice nails an unexpected Gollum impression across the evening), pitted against his squabbling sons and their curmudgeonly wives. The baddie? Tracey-Ann Oberman's Camilla, transporting the nation back to feudalism and kitting herself out in a bulky Tudor cosplay outfit – Hilary Mantel would do well zapping her over for The Mirror and the Light when that arrives on stage next month. George and Bert's work is chock full of contemporary nods – the piece even manages to shoehorn in fresh gags (and an entire plot thread) about Andrew's fresh US accusations that lit up the tabloids yesterday.
Admittedly a lot of the content lands because it has some top-tier talent delivering – Oberman and Enfield are on customary form, while Kara Tointon has a hoot ribbing the Duchess of Cambridge. The real scene-stealers were Jenny Rainsford and Eliza Butterworth as princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – overhamming their accents to preposterous levels (extra kudos to vocal coach Patricia Logue) as they try to prove their father's "innocence".
Director Michael Fentiman knows the best way to keep the anarchy coming, and, when stuff doesn't land, makes sure the show just moves swiftly on. That said, a few skits – including at least three jokes about Andrew's sweat glands and a hamfisted number about Camilla's resentment of the People's Princess – definitely overstay their welcome. Beyond some gags about vagina-scented candles, bridesmaid dresses and Oprah, Crystal Condie's Meghan is also given sparse amounts to be getting on with.
Composer Felix Hagan, whose wondrous Operation Mincemeat is one of the best new musicals of the last half-decade, provides some sturdy yet slightly perfunctory tunes here – feeling often that bit too unnecessary.
Considering it's essentially a big-budget panto with a solid cast and some easy gags, The Windsors gets a lot of things right when it could have done a whole lot more wrong: with a royal parody that's exactly what you'd probably want to be signing up for.