How the hell do you write a review for We Will Rock You?
The theatre critic in me and the eager student of such masters like Stanislavski, Grotowski and Strausberg absolutely hates it. It is a sloppy play that is self-serving and filled with lines that a second-rate panto could top and filled with so much eye candy that one’s head can swirl in a pseudo-drug induced high. Its pop cultural references and asinine characters and plot are tedious at best. Part of me is filled with dread with the thought that many musical theatre programmes are doing productions of this rather than classic fare from the likes of Rogers and Hammerstein, Porter and Sondheim. No wonder the critics in London pulverised the original when it opened in 2002, and part of me wants to join in with the ricochet of poisoned words against it.
But there’s another side of me: the Rock fan. The person who willingly queues for hours, sometimes all night, just for a cheap ticket to a concert. The person who remembers where he was when he learned that John Lennon was shot (home sick, and it was the first time I’d ever seen my mother cry about something on TV) and Kurt Cobain committed suicide (on the radio in my dorm room at university). The man whose first single was an AC/DC track and whose first CD was by Rush. The person who has only been star struck once in his life-when he met and had a ten-minute conversation with Pete Townshend. The person who loves debating about bands and songs with fellow lovers of music and relishes listening to good music and laments about the time when the word ‘band’ meant a group of people who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments and weren’t manufactured plastic people placed on a stage to get a bunch of suits rich through the empty promise of fame.
That person absolutely loved the production he saw last night.
We Will Rock You is nothing more than an excuse to perform 24 Queen songs. There’s a story about an oppressive futuristic society, but really who cares? People who go to this aren’t interested in plot, character and other conventions usually practiced in theatre. They’re there for ‘The Vibe’ that comes from good Rock. And say what you want about the production and its shortcomings (and let’s be honest–it’s filled with them): when it comes to creating ‘The Vibe’, this production delivers the goods.
And if this musical is about anything, it’s about celebrating that emotional rush that comes from good Rock music. At its heart, it doesn’t really care about the characters; it’s a lament for the fallen gods of Rock. Galileo may be the protagonist, but the real heroes are Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Chubby Checker and all the great Rockers from the past few decades. With all of the X Factor nonsense, perhaps Rock is in need of lamenting. In fact, as I write this review one of Rock’s greatest bands, Aerosmith, are perhaps no more. Maybe the best place for the future of Rock is in fact musical theatre.
And it may be campy, but We Will Rock You does at least work. Rock has been used in musicals a lot recently, usually to ill effect. I can’t think of many great ‘rock musicals’ with believable characters and plots. Tommy might as well be an acid trip, Rocky Horror has its tongue placed so hard in its cheek that it can bleed and anyone who’s ever worked on a production of Hair will tell you how much of a dramaturgical mess the book is (even though it just might be one of the best musical scores). Hedwig and the Angry Inch may be the most successful out there, but that’s really a concert for actors.
The very title ‘We Will Rock You’ is more of a promise than a name, and if it’s going to succeed, it needs an energetic and talented cast. Here is where things are a bit ‘iffy’. Michael Falzon as lead Galileo is good, which isn’t quite good enough. He’s likable, has a good voice and manages to pull the ending off, but it’s hard to believe that he’s a messiah that will save the world. Ben Elton’s script does not help matters here. Brenda Edwards’ Killer Queen is also adequate; she sings well enough but doesn’t blow anyone away, which is what the role requires. However, there are some stellar performances, including Sarah French-Ellis as Scaramouche and Wayne A. Robinson as lead Bohemian Britney. Darren Day is rather good as villain Khashoggi and Kevin Kennedy is fun as librarian-turned-underground leader Pop, but extra kudos should go to the ensemble, all of whom perform with great energy and musicality.
It might be ridiculous, even absurd, but damn it I really liked We Will Rock You. It’s a production that will probably not change anyone’s mind: if you think you’ll love it or hate it, you’re probably right. Part of me wants to spit on Ben Elton’s script, but in truth it handles everything well and is at least sincere. And it’s hard not to like a play that sees a tyrannical government overthrown not by politics or violence but by a young woman playing Brian May’s guitar while flaunting her Saltire knickers. Yeah, it’s all nonsense, but it is a blast, and it might be lousy musical theatre but it is great Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Playing at The Edinburgh Playhouse until January 9, 2010.
Filed under: Touring theatre productions |