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New Theatre, Oxford

We Will Rock You
4.0Reviewer's Rating

If you have any interest at all in the world and music of Queen, if you like good rock of any sort, then this show is, as a friend of mine used to say, a little bit of heaven for you. I absolutely was smitten by it! Because, quite apart from the music and the sometimes hilarious cues for various songs, Ben Elton has come up with an idea that, though lightweight, is much wittier and more telling than you expect from a “juke box musical” and a script that keeps you pleasantly-enough engaged between the songs. The setting is in a dystopian, sci-fi future. This is the work of a professional writer and performer who clearly knows what he is doing. Apart from anything else this show, which was first conceived in 2002, is completely fresh and contemporary in many of its references and has been updated. Set in an indeterminate future when the corporate-controlled internet has wiped out live music, by which time rock music is but a thing of legend that no one has heard, and when the only way to hear music at all is to stream only the music that is permitted by the Big Internet Giant run by a Killer Queen boss, the tale satirically posits a group of rebels trying to unearth and hear actual rock music for the first time in generations. The story can be taken at face value as a simply hilarious tale, you can also read into it a rather scary but relevant parable. Some people think the story is clunky. I found it peculiarly knowing.

The production values of this show are superb, from sets and costumes (including the wigs) to lighting and sound design. Every aspect works well in context, especially the music itself that carries the show and the energy that make it so delightful. Director Cornelius Baltus has done an excellent job fitting the details of the staging to the current performers. As with the script, there is a clear understanding that a simple carbon copy will not do. Therefore all main players and the ensemble work with energetic conviction and commitment in complete and seamless collaboration. Ian McIntosh has a wonderful voice and makes the part of Galileo-Figaro suitably dark, central, disturbed and heroic; Elena Skye is lovely as Scaramouche and Jenny O’Leary is memorable and strong as the Killer Queen. All the principals have very fine voices! Michael McKell’s Buddy, Adam Strong’s Kashoggi, Amy Di Bartolomeo’s Oz and David Michael Johnson’s Brit are all equally praiseworthy and individually memorable; and the ensemble is extremely well drilled in the quirky movement they have been given. (I could have used more imaginative and individualistic choreography, I have to admit; the dancing was mainly traditional rock show movements – snappy but predictable.) I also think that special praise should be given to Giles Maunsell and Sam Pattinson of Treatment Studio for the video production. The audience, of course, anticipated every song; got involved as requested in waving and chanting and singing when appropriate; and responded with total delight to the rock concert ending to which the show builds. There was a delighted and well-deserved standing ovation for the hard-working cast, of course; and a special bow for Ian McIntosh and Elena Skye. Unless you do not like the idiom and cannot accept the “given” of the quasi-satirical and fantastical script, this show will definitely fulfil its promise and rock you! It is going to tour extensively here and abroad.

  • Musical
  • Music and Lyrics by Queen
  • Book by Ben Elton
  • Directed by Cornelius Baltus
  • Musical Supervision, Orchestrations and Vocal Arrangements Brian May, Roger Taylor, Stuart Morley
  • Cast includes: Ian McIntosh, Elena Skye, Michael McKell, Adam Strong, Jenny O’Leary, Amy Di Bartolomeo, David Michael Johnson
  • New Theatre, Oxford
  • Until 7 March 2020, then touring the UK and abroad

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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