Book: Ben Elton
Music and Lyrics: Queen
Director: Ben Elton
It’s the GaGa High School graduation and the kids are set up for a lifetime of mindless consumption of pre-processed pop pap, all under the control of the nanny state. Most willingly conform, uploading their souls in exchange for the limitless content provided for them. Except for two maverick individuals: Galileo Figaro and Scaramouche. Galileo hears things in his head that turn out to be parts of the sacred scrolls (or, as we would say, pop lyrics). Scaramouche unforgivably has her own style and is uninterested in the tittle-tattle of her peers. And so the familiar kids-and-rock-n-roll-save-the-world trope starts. Along the way, we meet the rebels (known as ‘Bohemians’), the leader of the state, Killer Queen, and her chief of police Khashoggi. It’s all very predictable with a rather confusing and convoluted plot.
The original West End production went on to run for twelve years before closing in 2014. This touring production has been brought up to date with topical references to social media and climate change. And one of the high spots of the evening is Ben Elton’s witty book, packed with one-liners and knowing references. The cast plays this entirely straight, adding to the humour. As director too, Elton gets the best out of the book whenever the opportunity arises. But, of course, the real star of the show is the music of Queen. Their back catalogue has it all: rock anthems, quirky and eccentric numbers, softly spoken ballads, and this production makes sure it uses the widest range. While there’s plenty of spectacle from the big numbers with a good-sized ensemble filling the stage, there’s also unexpected poignancy, for example, when Galileo and Scaramouche sing Who Wants to Live Forever.
Ian McIntosh brings us Galileo, the confused rebel who becomes a leader of the Bohemians. His voice has a great rock belt blasting out those numbers with ease. But his range is greater than that, his naïve spouting of old lyrics provides genuine laughs and his connection with Scaramouche (Elena Skye) is quite electric.
Skye’s deadpan, almost sarcastic, delivery is the perfect counterpoint to the overblown production numbers. She gets some of the best lines and has a terrific rock chick voice (though never say chick to her face!) Skye’s performance is nothing short of perfection and on its own lifts the production to another level.
Jenny O’Leary’s Killer Queen struts about the stage as if she owns it (which Killer Queen, in a very real sense, does). She has terrific stage presence and a fantastic vocal range. She’s full of sass and at her best when opposite Khashoggi, dressing him down for his perceived failures. Among the rebels, Michael McKell’s Cliff (you can call him Sir Cliff) shines out. He provides a nuanced and funny performance as the elder statesman among the Bohemians. He wrings every last drop of humour from Elton’s book as it becomes clear just how ineffective Cliff’s leadership has been as they have placed their trust in the ancient scrolls and await ‘The Dreamer’.
It’s easy to poke fun at, and holes in, a plot constructed with the principal purpose of ensuring we get banger after banger from Queen’s back catalogue, but that barely matters to an audience largely weaned on Queen and determined to have a good time. It’s a largely undemanding night out with some unexpected gems from the book and musical performances that get the audience on its feet shouting for more.
Runs Until 28 May 2022 and on tour