Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 30 July 2022
Acclaimed screenwriter John Goldsmith brings his first play to Charing Cross Theatre this summer. It is set in 2002, the year of the Golden Jubilee, and imagines an encounter between a Republican school teacher Derek (Charlie Condou) and Queen Elizabeth II (Mary Roscoe) when they get stuck in a toilet together.
Goldsmith’s comedy isn’t sure if it wants to be a state of the nation in 2022 piece (but ‘What’ would happen if these minor royals disgraced her Majesty….) looking at education, politics and of course the monarchy or a silly idea about two very different people getting stuck in a toilet together. It doesn’t help that there is a throwaway reference to terrorism and the terrible battery life of phones in 2002 to keep the story moving and plausible.
The issue with The Throne is that it doesn’t feel particularly theatrical and feels more like a TV play, except nobody is commissioning TV plays like this anymore. It is wordy and desperate to throw in facts and quotations, great if you quiz like I do but a bit dull for most. One example is the headteacher character Peter (Michael Joel Bartelle) whose role is to provide exposition in the prologue and epilogue without really having a clear character or presence of his own apart from being an adversary to Derek. On stage it needs this clumsy introduction and resolution – on television it might appear more holistic and natural.
The chemistry between Condou and Roscoe is fantastic, the tense scenes are uncomfortable and Roscoe never resorts to caricature in her performance, playing her as a wife and mother who happens to have a divine right to rule. Condou’s Derek is a cynical man who has seen class from all angles; he is of an age where he is working class, has had opportunities to progress into the middle classes through his education at Cambridge University, but also has a lot of self-awareness; he is argumentative and annoying but cares about his pupils and the opportunities afforded to them.
As production it does feel like the first half could be shorter, and the ending feels rushed, but despite being set in a toilet in a school sports hall it is a pleasant looking production; Gregor Donnelly’s set takes away the sense of claustrophobia that would make this feel more tense but Anthony Biggs’ direction ensures we get a sense of how difficult and awkward the situation is.
I am not really sure who this play is aimed at but it is a pleasant way to spend two hours.
The Throne is on until 30th July https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/the-throne