There really is no shortage of love for Queen at the moment. With a huge tour on the horizon after multiple delays and the overwhelmingly positive response to 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody, now seems as good a time as any to dust off the bands jukebox musical We Will Rock You.
Eight years after it concluded its lengthy West End run at the Dominion Theatre (It is still the 11th longest running West End musical), We Will Rock You celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new tour around the UK. Written by Ben Elton who worked with Queen legends Brian May and Roger Taylor on the show, We Will Rock You is a show that has a special place in my heart as it was one of the first West End shows I ever saw before I was as theatre obsessed as I am now. Since then though, I have become a huge fan of Queen so would I still have the same love for the show, especially when looking through a reviewers eyes?
We Will Rock You is set in a distant, dystopian future where musical instruments and composers have been banned. It's up to a group of Bohemians to discover the Holy Grail of rock and unleash the Rhapsody. Not the most taxing of plots but it lends itself nicely as a way to introduce the plethora of classic songs. The script has been updated, with things that seemed fictional when the show first premiered 20 years ago now closer to reality than we ever expected - not to mention a few obligatory Covid references.
The script can be a little inconsistent at times, with the constant use of song titles as dialogue getting jarring and repetitive. However, once you embrace the stupidity, it has a certain charm to it that you can't help but fall in love with, complete with some hilarious punchlines thanks to the comedy talents of writer Ben Elton. With this show, you never know if you're about to laugh or cringe - and that only adds to the excitement of it.
The jewel in the crown of We Will Rock You is its music. Arguably the greatest songbook in musical history (in my opinion anyway), the show is full of hit after hit of instantly recognisable and much loved classics. 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'We Are The Champions' and 'Radio Ga Ga' are just some of the songs on hand here. There's a bittersweet irony in 'The Show Must Go On' - the anthem for performers during theatre closures - being performed as Killer Queen essentially tries to get performers to retrain in cyber during a pivotal moment in the show, while the perhaps lesser known 'No One But You (Only The Good Die Young)' provides a sombre moment as it recounts the legendary singers we lost too soon, such as the great Freddie Mercury himself in what is for me personally one of the most emotional numbers in musical theatre.
Performing such an iconic songbook isn't an easy task but luckily a group of incredibly talented performers are on hand in We Will Rock You. Ian McIntosh is brilliantly charismatic as Galileo, with Elena Skye showing off a huge voice as Scaramouche. Adam Strong delights in a panto villain-esque turn as Khashoggi while David Michael Johnson gives a comic yet captivating turn as Brit. For this performance, we were treated to another example of how amazing understudies are with Kate Leiper stepping in to the shoes of Meat.
Perhaps the greatest performance of the night came from the always wonderful Jenny O'Leary camping it up as the fabulously evil Killer Queen - Queen songs require big vocals and Jenny has no shortage of those, showcasing them effortlessly in moments such as 'The Show Must Go On' and 'Don't Stop Me Now'. She almost makes you want to root for the bad guys in this... which probably wasn't the intention.
The weakest aspect of this production, unfortunately, is the staging. We Will Rock You was an enormous show when it was in the West End, residing at one of the biggest staged - The Dominion Theatre. Obviously recreating that on tour isn't possible, but the cuts they've made have been so significant, we have been left with a very sparse and static set which can be quite dull and monotonous. While the production boasts great video projection as well as stunning lighting from Rob Sinclair and Luke Rolls, it felt like this needed a bit more excitement on stage to elevate this to the next level.
It's sometimes hard to recreate the magic of a West End run in a tour, and sadly this is where We Will Rock You falls short. However, as a standalone production, it is a highly enjoyable show full of some of the greatest songs of all time performed by a fantastic group of performers. Ultimately, this is still brilliant escapism and a great night out.
We Will Rock You is on tour across the UK until September 2022, currently playing in Aylesbury. Full dates and tickets from https://www.queenonline.com/wwry/uk_tour