Affectionate parody is quite the fashion in London at the moment and, if you like Netflix series The Crown – full of good stories and bad history – then you may well enjoy Daniel Clarkson’s The Crown Dual. The scenario is simple. An unsuccessful actor from Sevenoaks, who truly believes that she was born to play Her Maj, thinks her agent has set up an audition show at which the head of Netflix will be present. She is sure she will beat Olivia Colman to the prize of taking over from Claire Foy in the title role. Cue a procession of scenes from the series in which Rosie Holt and Brendan Murphy play all the characters – other than those roles into which members of the audience get dragooned. Sit in the front row if you want the chance to join in the fun.
The writing by Daniel Clarkson is consistently witty, capturing the charm of the fly-on-the-royal-wall idiocy of the Netflix series – so enabling the actors to roll out the jokes which make gentle fun of the monarchy and of the public obsession with finding out “who they really are.” Rosie Holt is wonderful both as the clueless actor convinced she has VIPs in the audience and – in the play within a play – as the young queen coping with the demands of her dimwit husband and the devious and incompetent courtiers and politicians with whom she has to deal. By cutting the plot devices to a couple of lines, rather than stretching them out over a whole episode a la Netflix, the play highlights the absurdities of the biopic format in a genuinely funny parody.
Brendan Murphy is even better as the Duke, sulking because he doesn’t get a new title when his wife gets to be queen. His roots in improvised comedy shine through in every aspect of his performance whether he is playing the D of E, or a senile Churchill, a cockney wide-boy Anthony Armstrong Jones – or even, in one splendid section, a sexy Princess Margaret. He is not quite as convincing as the useless agent with a side-line in selling double-glazing, but he is brilliant in ad-libbing with those members of the audience who get sucked into the action, especially in the hilarious coronation scene. I am not a fan of speech impediment jokes, but it was difficult not to laugh at the King’s Speech section as Murphy played George VI giving Elizabeth the benefit of his fatherly advice.
As ever, the intimate space of the King’s Head Theatre, tucked away in a small room at the back of this busy London pub, provides an ideal setting for skilled actors to connect with the up-close audience. And the witty script and the talented cast of two make this a showcase for just how good off-West End shows in London can be. Take your Union Jacks down to Islington and have a ball.