We Will Rock You
Steve Cramer sets his reservations to one side to make a positive case for the Queen musical
It’s a very queer place indeed on the other side of the looking glass. Within weeks of the Conservative Party staking a claim to be the defenders of the poor and downtrodden, along comes a classic catalogue McMusical, which sets out its stall as the defender of musical creativity and originality. What next? Crocodiles training to be paramedics?
To be fair, though, the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, has a few credentials to support its claim. Writer Ben Elton, for one thing. For all the money he’s made from his many television appearances, novels and plays Elton can claim, with a hazy kind of justice, not to have lost a sense of social conscience in his work. Such earlier theatre work as Gasping and Popcorn certainly showed a capacity to confront the ideological sacred cows of post –Thatcher culture.
Some of Elton’s diluted form of radicalism can be spotted within the narrative of We Will Rock You. If the piece isn’t overburdened with analytical insight, there is at least the skeleton of an allegory about the power of multinationals and individual struggle within that structure. Set in a futuristic world, the scenario imagines a mighty corporation, which bans musical instruments and originality. At the head of this monolith is the Killer Queen (guess where the song comes in), who employs a secret police apparatus to enforce her will.
Elton himself has said of the story: ‘We take the legend of Queen and create our own fantastical story of young kids battling the mighty corporations who want to suppress their individuality and their love of music. They need a hero who can help them in their struggle, and we have two – the dreamer Galileo and the sassy rock chick Scaramouche.’
Most articles introducing this kind of musical will, at this point, bombard you with a series of awesome statistics about its achievement thus far, involving vast numbers of performances (this one has run in the West End for eight years, so just do the math if you’re into that stuff), the cost of the set, and the fact that one could fill Lake Titicaca with all the soft drinks sold, and build a bridge from Edinburgh to Belgium with the popcorn purchased. But leave all the arduous accumulation of figures to one side, and focus on this this: Queen’s songs, being so anthemic, are well-suited to theatre, while their lyrics so often create pictures and scenarios with words, that it’s hard to see how this one won’t finish up as a pretty enjoyable knees-up.
On the star-spotting front, this production features Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts in Coronation Street), alongside the ubiquitous Darren Day, as Khasshoggi, head of the secret police. The cast also includes Brenda Edwards of Britannia High, that great recreation of the American High School without the small arms fire, and Ashley Russell, a defeated contestant in one of those hour-long trailers for Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals the BBC screens on Saturday nights.
Whatever your views on the ethics of these shows, the participants are usually strong of voice and fleet of foot, and with Brian May and Roger Taylor participating in the creation, you should find it in your heart to ignore the ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’-style ending, and enjoy a big, camp night out.
We Will Rock You, Edinburgh Playhouse, Wed 4 Nov–Sat 9 Jan.