With “Bohemian Rhapsody” the movie setting the all-time box office records for the biopic and drama genres, and Queen + Adam Lambert resuming their world tour post-pandemic, Londoners are now getting, even more, Queen treatment – and I’m not talking about the Queen’s Jubilee (see what I did there!). “We will rock you”, a musical based on Queen’s hits and a book by Ben Elton returns to town after 20 years.
A new spin on Queen songs as you know them
Another Freddy Mercury story, you ask? Well, not in this case. “We will rock you” the musical is more of a jukebox sci-fi fairytale that uses songs we all know to progress its action. It’s the same kind of trick that worked so well in “Mamma Mia” – when a story is not related to the band at all, yet the story utilises the songs’ lyrics to create a completely new concept.
The musical tells the story of a group of Bohemians who struggle to restore the free exchange of thought and fashion, and live music in a distant future where everyone dresses, thinks, and acts the same. Musical instruments and composers are forbidden, and rock music is all but unknown. There’s hope though – as the legend says, one day a “dreamer” will come and bring the music back to the world.
“We will rock you” – a global musical franchise
“We will rock you” is the eleventh longest-running musical in West End history, and its London production closed on 31 May 2014 after a final performance in which Brian May and Roger Taylor both performed. several international productions have since followed the original, and We Will Rock You has been seen on six of the world’s continents. Now, after 20 years since its reveal to the UK audience, the show has been refreshed and updated with yet more puns and pop culture references (jokes about wearing masks, X-factor leading to the end of music as we know it, etc).
Ok, here’s the thing. This play is a guilty pleasure. Or, if you’re more of an opera/national theatre-goer, a guilty-guilty-guilty pleasure. It will make you laugh, cringe (hard), sing and dance at the same time. It has moments when it feels more like a pantomime than a musical. So just buckle up and get ready for a crazy ride. Here, I warned you.
As the show starts, its Director asks everyone to cheer and clap, but not sing – because “we have brought here the finest professional voices for your entertainment”. But it’s hard! Even if you’re not a fan of the storyline, you will still stamp your feet, clap your hands and sing (even if quietly). That’s what Queen’s music does, it automatically makes you dance and sing.
Freddie Mercury meets Mad Max and some seriously silly jokes
So be ready. It’s a silly story, with seriously cringe lines (the main hero, Galileo Figaro, speaks 99% in lines from pop/rock songs) and Mad Max-inspired locations, this show is something else. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. If you need a logical, classic story, you will hate it. On the other hand, if you are keen to keep your mind open and just go with the flow, you will have the time of your life.
If a live Queen performance is what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. The band (hidden somewhere behind/on the side of the stage, but with occasional appearances for a guitar solo) sounds fantastic, the guitars are sharp and the drums are strong. The main cast keeps a very high level in terms of vocals: the main standouts for me were Elena Skye as Scaramouche and Jenny O’Leary as the Killer Queen. These two almost blew the roof out of Wimbledon Theatre!
But look, even if you look at the show as a very silly yet entertaining piece, it still has some parts that could be improved. My biggest pain was the set design: very simple, with a scaffolding bridge, and a huge set of LED screens behind it. Most of the time, there’s some kind of 3-D animation played on the screens as the background, but the quality of graphics is so dated, that I wonder if it’s the same material that was used during the 2002 run of the show. It would be great to see some other stage setup, utilising more real pieces of stage design rather than just the digital screens.
I’m inconclusive about the costumes and makeup – on one hand, there are lots of them and you can see that the designer went all out coming up with rock-inspired outfits, but also the opposite, digital-oriented sets of costumes for the Ga Ga Kids. Some of them, however, look very cheap (especially wigs) – but then, it’s all a part of the concept, I suppose?
“We will rock you” is not a musical for everyone. But if you are looking for an easy night out, the one where both your teenage kids and your uncle will nod their heads and clap their hands enjoying the timeless classics, go for it! Just get ready to experience some seriously dry humour and puns – and you’re good to go!
Directed by: Ben Elton
Music & Lyrics: Queen
Set & Costumes: Tim Blazdell
Ticket price: £13++
30 May – 4 June 2022
Then follows a UK tour: Stockton-On-Tees, Manchester