Friday, August 19, 2016

Royal Vauxhall (Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh Fringe)

What would happen if anarchic radio DJ and TV comedian Kenny Everett, and international rock megastar Freddie Mercury, decided to take the doe-eyed Queen of Hearts Princess Diana out to a gay bar? Well, believe it or not, that did actually happen, and Royal Vauxhall, a new musical from Desmond O'Connor, answers that question in its own unique way.

Although its tongue is very much in its cheek, there is an underlying melancholy to Royal Vauxhall. The unspoken truth shared by the writer and the audience is that we all know these three characters have a tragic end, and there are glimmers of self-awareness, especially in Mercury. Royal Vauxhall is set at the fag end of the 1980s, when the once close friends Mercury and Everett had made up following a fall-out over a tell-all book written by Everett's wife. Diana is feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, and everything is careering headlong toward that fateful November in 1991 when the world lost one of its brightest, most extravagant stars.

But the tragic fates of these three characters are not dwelt upon too heavily, and what we get is a chaotic depiction of the relationship between the three, and how they might act on a night out at London's Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Diana goes undercover as Private Benjamin, Kenny dons a Dolly Parton wig, and Freddie dresses in drag to present a camp and crazy version of Blankety Blank. It's all thoroughly bonkers, peppered with wonderful (sometimes schmaltzy) songs boasting great hooks and amusing lyrics, as well as a cameo from a hand-operated David Bowie (no show is complete without one, surely?).

Matthew Floyd Jones is fabulous as Kenny Everett, capturing the right amount of kooky, crazy anarchism that the man himself is so well-remembered and loved for, while Tom Giles looks every bit the strutting Mercury. He does not attempt an impersonation of the Queen star, but he manages to look and feel like him, and boasts an incredible singing voice. Sarah-Louise Young's Diana is refined and sensitive, just as she should be, but when she gets drunk and lets it all hang out at the RVT, she becomes a whirling dervish of energy and fun, clambering over the audience and handing out bubbly.

Royal Vauxhall is a riotous experience with songs and laughter and a knowingness that appeals, but underlying it is a touching story of three brilliant people who felt alone and adrift in their lives, and found some kind of solace in one another's company. That brief period was not to last long for any of them, as HIV and a drunken chauffeur conspired to take these shining stars away from us. The closing scene at Heaven's Gate is moving and amusing. A fabulously fun night's entertainment.

PS: Whoever thought of opening and closing the show with a mash-up of Queen's I Want to Break Free and Michael Jackson's Black or White is a genius. Thank you.

The stats
Writer: Desmond O'Connor
Director: Lucy Wray
Cast: Tom Giles (Freddie Mercury); Sarah-Louise Young (Diana); Matthew Floyd Jones (Kenny Everett)
Performed at Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh, August 3rd to 29th, 2016. Performance reviewed: August 16th, 2016

Royal Vauxhall Facebook page (retrieved Aug 19 2016)

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