Imagine a world where all music is processed and sounds like it’s been spat out by an X Factor reject – instrument-playing bands are non-existent, and ‘real’ music is dead. That’s the premise of Ben Elton’s jukebox musical using the songs from Queen’s back catalogue, which has recently just kicked off a lengthy UK & Ireland tour on the back of the success of biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. We Will Rock You premièred at the Dominion Theatre in 2002, completing a 12-year West End run, and the tour last week hit Nottingham.
Globalsoft Corporation (run by the Killer Queen) watches over the iPlanet, where Ga Ga Kids are a vision of conformity in every aspect of their existence. From this homogeneous mass comes Galileo Figaro, a young man who hears lyrics & strange riddles in his dreams, and Scaramouche – an outsider by virtue of her individual taste in clothes. The pair meet when they’re captured by Khashoggi; they quickly decide to escape together, eventually coming across Brit, Oz and the rest of the Bohemians – a group of free-thinkers who now live in the Heartbreak Hotel. It’s clear to Brit and Oz that Galileo is the one they’ve been waiting for, but will they manage to revive rock music before Globalsoft catch up with them..?
Before I go any further, I think we have to acknowledge how ridiculous it is reading all that back – it is the classic jukebox setup of cramming as many references to the band’s songs and lyrics as possible, combined with a bizarre and slightly pretentious-sounding plot. I’m not going to try and pretend that it isn’t ridiculous, because it is – however, its tongue remains firmly in its cheek and it is completely aware of its own ridiculousness. Let’s not forget Queen’s previous association with camp sci-fi (they recorded the soundtrack to the 1980 film Flash Gordon – which I still want to be adapted for the stage), so they’re on familiar territory with this show. Once you realise that it’s not taking itself at all seriously it makes for an incredibly enjoyable watch.
As you would expect from a comedy writer of Ben Elton’s calibre, there are some snappy one-liners, and name reveals also tickle the audience. Some updates have been made since the show’s original run, swapping in some more up-to-date references where necessary; it’s good to know that they’ve done their utmost not to make it feel as dated as it might otherwise have been (though the jeopardy of this merely adds to its quirky charm).
We Will Rock You is guilty of the usual jukebox musical crime of going overboard with the musical numbers; there are too many songs, though when you consider how many Queen tracks there are to choose from you can understand why someone would have a tough time narrowing it down to this selection (let alone make more culls). This is good news for any Queen fans in the audience who are less familiar with theatre, as pretty much all of the greatest hits get an airing in one form or another – that is the bonus of this type of show.
Most of the set is made up of video screens of various sizes, with very few props. This is obviously a smart move for a touring production, as there aren’t various giant structures to be assembled, taken apart & transported from week to week, and it does provide the opportunity to quickly – and more realistically – change location onstage. The video design (Treatment Studio) is pretty high quality – they’ve certainly been ambitious with it. I think I would prefer to see a few more physical sets to strike a bit of a balance and make it feel slightly more real, but it’s not a bad effort at all.
What can really elevate a show of this nature is the cast, and a remarkably talented set of performers have been assembled for this tour. Michael McKell swiftly becomes an audience favourite as innuendo king Buddy, and Jenny O’Leary & Adam Strong make a fantastically dastardly duo as Killer Queen & Khashoggi, separately providing two of my favourite musical performances (Another One Bites The Dust & Seven Seas of Rhye). Elena Skye’s Scaramouche is refreshingly down-to-earth for an inhabitant of a dystopian nightmare, and her vocals are to die for – her rendition of Somebody to Love is matched only by Amy di Bartolomeo’s stunningly emotional No-One But You (Only the Good Die Young).
Ian McIntosh is simply magnifico as Galileo, playing it as serious as possible within the confines of the show’s camp ridiculousness, thus giving you something to properly invest in over the 2h45 running time. McIntosh’s vocals are equally impressive, perhaps shown off most effectively in Who Wants To Live Forever and We Are The Champions.
My verdict? A camp, clap-along classic that revels in its ridiculousness – a must for Queen fans young and old!
We Will Rock You was at Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham from 25-30 November 2019. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.