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We Will Rock You at London Coliseum

Britney Spears died to save us,” observes Scaramouche (Elena Syke). It’s true what they say about the book in We Will Rock You – it’s more than a little bizarre. The narrative assumes a dystopian world in which the only music permitted is state-sanctioned recorded material. But the show is terrible at portraying such a world: all these songs keep appearing, performed live, and none of them sound like the sort of unimaginative fodder the government of the Killer Queen (Brenda Edwards) would come up with. Brit (Adrian Hansel), as he is known, is one of several ‘bohemians’ – a sort-of resistance movement, and in a world where Spears is a man, Meat Loaf (Christine Allado) is a woman.

We Will Rock You - Credit Bonnie Britain.Assuming you’re able to keep up with all of this and so much more (the show even manages to name-drop Sir Cliff Richard), there’s also the sheer amount of references to both Queen and non-Queen songs in the spoken dialogue (not, despite this being a rock musical, exclusively rock songs, though you already knew that as we’ve established there’s a version of Britney Spears in the show). Just don’t expect someone to reference Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. That said, there are a few surprising inclusions – I’d tell you what they are, but it would be giving too much away.

Of course, after 4,600 performances at the Dominion Theatre and numerous touring productions, it’s not a show to be completely dismissed, however contrived the storyline is (it is, to be fair, one of the relatively few musicals without a love triangle in the narrative). In October 1979, Freddie Mercury performed ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with the Royal Ballet, at the London Coliseum, which now hosts this twelve-week run of We Will Rock You. This production has a credibly futuristic feel, at least partly thanks to stunning video projections – some of which are so good they give the show a borderline cinematic look. They’re also so good they leave nothing to the imagination: it’s a show best enjoyed by sitting back and letting proceedings wash over you.

While some of the spoken dialogue drags on, especially when there’s a feeling that there’s another Queen song to be enjoyed once the on-stage characters have stopped deliberating, it is a story that is explained in full. Indeed, if anything it’s over-explained: on the other hand, not knowing what’s going on would be worse – from what I’ve been led to believe, some of the plot points that weren’t so clear in the original production have now been fleshed out.

The production provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy the music of Queen live, and a committed cast are evidently enjoying themselves. Brenda Edwards’ first outing as Killer Queen was in 2009 – her performance in this production retains a sassy freshness as a strangely likeable antagonist who, equally strangely, flits between a British accent and a Caribbean one. Ben Elton in the role of ‘Pop – The Rebel Leader’ has a magnetic stage presence, and manages to crowbar a criticism of the privatisation of the railways in Britain into the dialogue. There was, on press night, Sir Brian May on guitar for the encore number, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (what else were they going to close with?) but even so, the night still belonged to Ian McIntosh in the role of Galileo Figaro, seemingly effortlessly gliding through his musical numbers with charm and vigour.

Stuart Morley leads a well-drilled six-piece band, and the audience gets occasional glimpses of them from their above-stage position. Rory Madden’s sound design gives the show an arena concert feel during the louder musical numbers. The book’s absurdity seems to risk alienating younger theatre patrons with its take on apparent addictiveness to the internet and smartphones, as does the odd revised lyric (“All we hear is cyberspace ga-ga, marketing blah blah”). A deep and meaningful plot is to be found elsewhere. But it’s a spectacle, with stunning voices and an audio-visual experience that is, in its own way, a kind of magic.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

21 years since it all began… the world’s favourite rock theatrical returns home!

The worldwide smash-hit We Will Rock You by Queen and Ben Elton returns to London, next summer for an unmissable 12-week season. Seen by 17 million people across 28 countries, this musical spectacular plays to its biggest audience yet. Taking to the same iconic stage at the London Coliseum that saw Freddie Mercury’s 1979 Royal Ballet performance, this event will go down in musical theatre history.

Featuring 24 of Queen’s best-loved hits, including We Are The Champions, Bohemian Rhapsody and Don’t Stop Me Now, We Will Rock You is guaranteed to blow your mind.

We Will Rock You
London Coliseum, London
2 Jun 2023 – 26 Aug 2023
2h 20m (incl interval)

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