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The Windsors: Endgame – Prince of Wales Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore

Director: Michael Fentiman

The sitcom to stage transfer requires a difficult balance; it needs to be a continuation of the story and feature characters from the original TV series, but it also needs to appeal to audiences coming to it for the first time. The League of Gentlemen managed this successfully with tour shows almost 20 years apart and, just before the first lockdown, Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow was almost pitch perfect.

But the writers of royal parody The Windsors have got this all wrong. Political satire and caricature are almost as old as constitutional monarchy and, on screen, George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore’s often quite broad sitcom for Channel 4 smartly but affectionately lampooned the pomposity of monarchy and behaviour of the royal family. On stage that edge has been forcibly blunted by too many plot ideas, panto jokes and a meandering purpose.

After the abdication of the Queen, Charles finally becomes King and, under the direction of evil Queen Camilla, establishes an absolute monarchy and feudal state when Wills and Kate are on a royal tour of America. Returning to a changed homeland, the favoured royal heirs must join forces with enemy in-laws Meghan and Harry to defeat Charles and restore democracy.

The Windsors: Endgame begins well enough as Matthew Cottle’s beloved Prince Edward pops through the curtain for a quick pre-amble and lands a great joke about Danny Dyer’s royal lineage. But it’s almost all downhill from here. For Jeffrie and Tyler-Moore, Prince Andrew is the gift that keeps on giving, especially with a newly inserted joke about his American court case, and many many many references to paedophiles, including a tasteless Jimmy Saville joke which creates a collective intake of breath.

There are bizarre references to burning down Sarah Beeny’s house and, more worryingly, having her beaten under Charles III’s new despotic regime which generates far more laughter than it should. The writers, stumped for plot, create more reasons for the ‘Fab Four’ to despise each other but even that descends into vulgarity, suffering from the same repetition as the Prince Andrew material and another running joke about working for Andrew Lloyd Webber.

This is a mixed cast of TV series originals and newly appointed members of the family, so the rapport developed over five years and three series is missing, and is equally difficult for the actors stepping into quite distinctive roles made famous by other performers. Ciarán Owens and Kara Tointon inherit the roles of Wills and Kate but make a rather bland pairing – and not in the way intended – while Crystal Condie, new to playing Meghan, has very little to do alongside Tom Durant-Pritchard’s Harry. Harry Enfield amplifies Charles’ despotic tendencies but has remarkably little stage time.

Thank goodness for Tracy Ann Oberman who steals the show as Camilla, pitching her evil mastermind persona perfectly and dominating the stage every time she appears – especially in a queenly Tudor dress designed by Hillary Lewis. A consummate comic actor on stage, Cottle is wonderful in his many guises as Edward while Eliza Butterworth is the only cast member to consistently get laughs for Eugenie’s twisted pronunciation, one of the TV series most successful gags.

That The Windsors: Endgame is running at the Prince of Wales Theatre is probably the best joke of all and one that they didn’t write. The absence of the superb Morgana Robinson as Pippa is fatal and without any notable affection for the characters, this transfer from sitcom to screen feels laboured. If this was an absolute monarchy, it would be off with their heads but if Channel 4 commissions another series, let’s just pretend none of this ever happened.

Runs until 9 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Off with their heads

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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