A musical set in the future? Such is the surprise when one goes to see the biggest show of recent years without having read the synopsis. Yes, fine, Starlight Express has been running for decades but beautiful though it is, it’s not futuristic AND full of Queen tunes.
Having opened this week at Leeds Grand theatre, We Will Rock You was a brash delight of an evening. Set in a dystopian 24th decade, the world is run by some kind of global cyber-corporation who police all music and obliterate all instruments. It’s a run of the mill “the man” against the revolution story, rather fitting for the songs it encapsulates. The plot is loose to say the least – though it’s a testament to suspension of disbelief that the crowd was drawn in all the same (both sides are singing Queen people!). The show as a whole actually improved as it paid less heed to story and concentrated on the songs.
Playing the boyish lead was Noel Sullivan (of Hearsay almost-fame) now making a go of the theatre scene. Having seen him in Grease in the West End I can safely say that he is more suited to Gallileo’s naivety than Danny Zuko’s playfulness. He executed the necessary tics and twitches skilfully and there was definitely no faulting his voice, though he has quite a bizarre serious/intense face which merits a trip on its own.
His object of unwitting desire, Scaramouche, was played impeccably by Amanda Coutts. Having previously understudied the role in the West End she was clearly very comfortable with the part and her feistiness shone throughout. At first a little annoying, Coutts was vocally the strongest of the cast was won me over in the end. .
The rest of the cast and chorus were equally talented and instantly likeable. Highlights included the chemistry between the Killer Queen and Khashoggi, Pop (benefitting from the best writing) and all the rebels all the time.
The music! Not being any more of a Queen fan than the average human being, I can’t tell whether a die-hard would find the musical sacrilegious. I suspect not. With a backbone of such infectious songs, the play is unlikely to disappoint. The songs certainly aren’t as rock as at their inception, but then my generation uses Queen as karaoke fodder so really there’s no harm done. The audience, made up of all ages, sang, danced, stamped and clapped the whole way through and that’s what counts. My personal favourite was Another One Bites The Dust, complete with Space Invaders backdrop.
A video screen with different graphics was used throughout along with traditional props to mixed success. Sometimes, as with Space Invaders, the images were apt and witty; sometimes they were naff and that was ok; other times they were just naff. But kudos for the concept.
All in all We Will Rock You is never going to win writing awards (sorry Ben, stick to Blackadder) but that doesn’t matter. The aim is to perform Queen hits as energetically as possible – somehow managing reverent and irreverent at the same time. With such a fun catalogue of songs it’s clear that the cast (and likely the production crew too) are enjoying themselves immensely, which communicates better with the audience than a water-tight plot would.
We Will Rock You is running at the Leeds Grand 01 November 2011 – 26 November 2011 , contact the box office on 0844 848 2706