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Theatre reviews: We Will Rock You
Published Date: 12 November 2009
By Joyce McMillan
WE WILL ROCK YOU **** PLAYHOUSE, EDINBURGH
IF THE medium is the message, then We Will Rock You – the spectacular Queen tribute musical scripted by Ben Elton – must be one of the most confusing Christmas shows ever to strut its stuff on the vast stage of the Edinburgh Playhouse.
Yet on Monday night, when a crowd of 3,000 rose as one to roar out their welcome to Queen guitarist Brian May as he strolled on stage to play the finale, followed in short order by drummer Roger Taylor, it was hard not to feel that this desperately self-conscious and sometimes self-contradictory tribute musical was likely to give tens of thousands of theatregoers more pure pleasure, over the coming Christmas season, than many a show with stronger artistic credentials.
Set 300 years from now, in a miserably dystopian future – when the Earth is a giant mall ruled by the all-powerful Globalsoft corporation, all music is computer-generated, and musical instruments have been destroyed and banned – We Will Rock You presents itself as a rallying cry to reassert the power and spirit of real rock, against the evil commercial forces which, ever since the days of Simon Cowell, have been conspiring to destroy it.
The difficulty is, though, that right from the outset, Elton's script doesn't know how seriously to take this quest, led by a geeky 24th-century hero called Galileo Figaro, who hears the sounds of great lost rock classics in his head; his girlfriend, the mouthy, goth-styled Scaramouche, constantly mocks his aspirations, even as she helps him along. Beyond that, the sheer technical spectacle of the production – with its glitzy pomp-rock style, beautifully-drilled chorus, massive lightshows, and vast computer-generated images of a 24th-century cyber-world – inevitably undermines the show's claims to be all about the basic revolutionary joy of the human voice matched with the electric guitar. And finally, there are the structural problems raised by the show's determination to fit more than two dozen Queen songs into the story, so that many of the greatest hits appear only in tantalising fragments.
Somehow, though, despite all of these problems, the sheer glamour and power of Queen's music simply drives the show on, through a dazzling range of songs from Radio Gaga and Crazy Little Thing Called Love to We Are The Champions and the title song itself. Michael Falzon, in the leading role as Galileo, sometimes looks a little overwhelmed by the weight of expectation he carries, as the fifty-something fans roar out their adoration; only Darren Day looks thoroughly at ease, in his role as the villain Khashoggi. But the atmosphere is genial, the music is great, the dancing is superb, the spectacle is unsurpassed; and the audience emerges into the Edinburgh night walking on air, and grinning from ear to ear.
We Will Rock You at the Playhouse,
The cast simply let rip in a show that entertains from start to finish
Has there ever been a show in which the cast has such a good
time? Sometimes that can be a bad sign, but in the production of
the Queen jukebox musical that has arrived in Edinburgh for
Christmas it simply reflects that they have a licence to be as
outrageous, as out-front, as big as possible, and they are loving
Queen were never a restrained chamber concert themselves.
The company here, led by Michael Falzon, a young Australian,
with a panache that Freddie Mercury would have approved of,
simply let rip. A packed Playhouse loved every gaudy,
extravagant, spectacular second of it and so did I.
Say what you like about Ben Elton’s futuristic fantasy (and it was
widely rubbished when it first opened in the West End), it gets
many great Queen numbers in and has tremendous fun with
rock icons of the past, and indeed present, for some work has
been done to freshen up the topical references of what is, after
all, a seven-year-old show.
They have even given Scaramouche — the female lead — a pair
of knickers with a saltire on just to please the local crowd. And
who’s to say that Elton’s basic premise, that 300 years hence an
avaricious software company will have taken over all music and
turned rock’n’roll into a forgotten legend is so far-fetched?
Scaramouche, played by Sarah French-Ellis, is one of the things
that stops the show being an indulgence. Stroppy, difficult and
nobody’s fool, she is the one who ends up with the big guitar
solo that, in rock’n’roll circles, is about as subversive as you can
Good as the young leads are, it is Brenda Edwards who gives
the biggest performance as the Killer Queen head of the evil
Globesoft corporation that controls all music with its computers.
There are some snide remarks in the script about the noxious
impact of The X Factor on music, a competition in which
Edwards reached the semi-final four years ago. Now she has
truly left Simon Cowell and his kind in her dust.
Not every performance will get the bonus of Brian May and
Roger Taylor turning up to play live in the final encore of
Bohemian Rhapsody as they did here. But I suspect that
audiences will have a high old time of it. And that, really, is the
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