Wednesday, 13 July 2011

We Will Rock You - Birmingham Hippodrome - Reviewed by Pete Millington

Theatre goers at Birmingham Hippodrome last week were treated to a sumptuous treat of entertainment which will not easily be forgotten. I have watched some amazing shows at the Hippodrome in the past few years but this one rates up there in the Champions League sort of zone - a night at the rock opera topped with the ultimate and, certainly from my point of view, unexpected virtuoso performance in the encore - but more of that later.

For anyone whose souls have been touched by the exhilarating music of Queen during the past four decades, young or old, this pumping high energy live anthology of their greatest hits is guaranteed to be a treat and the excited audience response was evident from curtain up.

But this show is so much more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, We Will Rock You is described as the biggest rock theatrical event of the century and it certainly lived up to that claim last week. The show was written by comedy writing genius Ben Elton alongside the remaining Queen members (post-Freddie). The script bears all the hallmarks of classic Ben Elton, with plenty of humour adeptly combining silly gags with cutting satire, a gripping storyline, engaging characters, as well as some of that powerful observation around current issues that we love and expect from this nowadays modest spokesman of our generation.

The story is set in the future when Planet Mall, formerly Earth, is under the control of Globalsoft, a massive corporation that has banned live music, instruments and songs and instead feeds computerised identikit pop to the masses. The heroes, Galileo (Noel Sullivan) and Scaramouche (Amanda Coutts) join forces with an underground movement called the Bohemians (beginning to see the Queen references?) to liberate the planet from the tyrannical Killer Queen (ooh, there's another!)

There are some great performances across the entire cast, Sullivan and Coutts giving great interpretations of Queen classics, along with X Factor finalist Rhydian Roberts as Khashoggi, Tiffany Graves as Killer Queen, Leon Lopez as the unfortunately named Britney and Jenny Douglas as the also interestingly named Meat.

Perhaps the best known cast member is actor Ian Reddington, whose television and theatre work is too vast to even start to go into, well ok, Tricky Dicky in Eastenders and Vernon Tomlin in Coronation Street to name just got him. Reddington plays an ageing hippy-type who provides a kind of John the Baptist character to the show's unwitting messiah, Galileo. A stereotypical character known as Pop, reminding me of the retired Cockney roadie in Wayne's World 2 ("Ozzy had just done a gig and he wanted some M&Ms"). Reddington's portrayal of the character is enormous fun and there is a great moment when he climbs on board his Harley Davidson towards the end and invites rock chick Scaramouche to join him, with accompanying innuendos to raise a few chuckles. 

The music is, as one might expect in view of the fact that Brian May and Roger Taylor are musical directors, phenomenal. Unlike shows like Joseph and other West End classics, Ben Elton did not start with a story and then write the songs. This must have been the other way round in picking out Queen's 25 greatest hits and then weaving a brand new plot around them.

This has been achieved seamlessly and no song ever seems out of place or contrived, even the ones like Flash which have been famously and specifically used in other scores. It's all very clever. Between the passion, the pathos and the rock glamour, there are of course the corny lines and references which are also hallmark Ben Elton, but all of it serves to keep the audience well entertained.

And finally to the encore...

When reading down the song list in the programme at the start of the show I observed to my son Patrick that Bohemian Rhapsody was notable by it's absence.

Now thinking about it, wouldn't that have been the theatrical gaff of the decade?

"Er sorry about this but we seem to have forgotten to include Queen's greatest ever hit and arguably the most popular pop song of the 20th century! Doh!"

But needless to say, as the curtain went down at the end of the show a sign appeared asking "do you want more?" followed shortly by one reading "do you want Bohemian Rhapsody?"

A stroke of pure genius. As if the audience wasn't excited enough, the place went absolutely wild with applause.

But more was to follow and as the show's two main characters, Scaramouche and Galileo launched into a haunting rendition of the national anthem of popular culture post 1959, out from the eaves stepped the legend that is Brian May, wielding his rock axe to well and truly complete an evening of sublime entertainment.

To quote Wayne's World one more time ... "we're not worthy, we're not worthy". was definitely a kind of magic! 

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