Review – We Will Rock You

Nov 10 2009 | By More

Edinburgh Playhouse
Review by Thom Dibdin

Star-spotting was the trend up at the We Will Rock You aftershow party in Harvey Nicks last night, but the real stars had already made their public appearances. Brian May and Roger Taylor performed live on the Playhouse stage for what must have been the first time since Queen played there in 1976.

Their return was, it must be said, a phenomenally uplifting moment. May’s initial appearance brought a packed Playhouse to its feet, while the ushers were trying – and failing – to stem the tide of phone cameras being held aloft. But when the crowd realised that Taylor on his drum kit was being wheeled out through the ensemble in the Bohemian Rhapsody finale, their roar of appreciation rivalled even the throb of bass from the stage.

We Will Rock You certainly lives up to its name. No-one’s going to be invoking the trades-description act, or arguing that they were not rocked. The show boasts “over 24” Queen songs – performed by a line-up of hugely talented named stars, who are in turn supported by some of the most lithe-limbed and exuberantly-voiced performers in the business and a house band who could blast rockets into space if they wished.

The big question is whether it also rolls. How you answer that depends very much on whether you think Ben Elton’s script is a witty piece of post-modern badinage, peppered with hilarious references to all things rock and pop. Or whether you experience a jukebox musical which hammers its point home unnecessarily, overplays the deconstructive one-liners and seriously underplays its use of the natural drama of Queen’s songs to squeeze as many into the show as it can.

The plot is certainly as portentous as it should be. In 2309, earth has been turned into Planet Mall, where the Global Soft corporation holds sway over the Ga Ga boys and girls. Conformity and computer-generated music are the norm. Resistance comes from the Bohemians who hoard fragments of rock memorabilia and hope for a dreamer to save the day.

All of which is mere background to a classic romance of rebellious youth. Not to mention a device to cram a few more numbers – or irritatingly incomplete sung hints or references to numbers – into the production.

No surprises, then, that the young man channelling rock and pop lyrics from the late 20th century calls himself Galileo or that his feisty, feminist girlfriend sidekick is Scaramouche. Equally unsurprisingly, the head of Global Soft is the Killer Queen – although you’d have to be a bit more of a fan to get the reference of naming her head of secret police, Khashoggi.

In these key named roles, Michael Falzon as Galileo and Sarah French-Ellis as Scaramouche are excellent value. He should be, having performed the role in the Australian version of the show, but his singing and acting are still vibrant and fresh. French-Ellis easily convinces with both character and voice. Unfortunately, the best of their numbers are downbeat affairs used to help move the boy-girl plot along, not showcase song-writing prowess.

Darren Day also puts in a strong performance as Khashoggi, quite the nasty villain, cackling maniacally along the backwalk as the Bohemians have their brains burnt out and sent to the Seven Seas of Rye. Oh, and Kevin Kennedy, of Corry fame, does a nice line as hippy librarian Pop, the Bohemians’ mentor.

The weak link, however, is Brenda Edwards of X-Factor fame as Killer Queen. For all her great voice she is totally miscast – you never believe she’s a despotic ruler of the whole world. Yes, she brings a feline edge to the sexual energy the role demands – but its all pussy and no cat when it comes to having the necessary spite.

Crucially, her rendition of what should be a stunning trio of numbers – Fat Bottomed Girls, Don’t Stop Me Now and Another One Bites the Dust – is pleasing, rather than vicious. Although in the first of these the female members of the ensemble combine a down-dirty sense of rhythm with seductive movement in Arlene Phillips’ sensual choreography.

Which is what is often so irritating about this whole production. Yes, it is a brilliant piece of showmanship, what with the big flashy lights, the spot-on choreography, impeccably timed dancing, well balanced but spin-tinglingly loud band, the expressive performers and the downright sexy costumes. The content, however, just doesn’t add up.

Continues until January 9


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