Prince of Wales Theatre, London – until 9 October 2021
You know you’re in safe hands when a stagestruck Prince Edward, diffident and excitable, bumbles through the curtains to explain that in this family show he does all the “utility parts” in lots of costumes. Indeed his first role is as a banquet waiter at a Coronation feast as the tabs open. Suddenly to gales of laughter a leering Andrew is manhandled out of the front row by a cross usherette, for not having a ticket. I saw this on the day he was formally sued by Ms Giuffre. Imagine the audience reaction…
The idea of the deliciously rambling plot is that the Queen has abdicated: Charles in Coronation robes sings triumphantly how he was as a youth always told “Be a man! Be a man! Be tough, be male, be brutish, like your sister Princess Anne!” Anxious William and Kate look on. Cut to Meghan and Harry in yoga poses, podcasting about compassion while their wheatgrass smoothies are served by the galumphing maid, Fergie (Sophie-Louise Dann is glorious). Back home in the UK Beatrice and Eugenie, in drawling Sloane voices and insane fascinators, gallantly start a campaign to prove their father’s innocence.
I loved the Channel 4 spoof by Bert Tyler Moore and George Jeffrie, with Harry Enfield as a deluded megalomaniac Charles, a scheming Camilla and a family of well-meaning dolts with peculiar (and not very royal) pronunciations – “MeGUN” etc. It is oddly innocent, as only wild exaggeration can be: less savage than the old Spitting Image and far less damaging than the sly inventions of The Crown and the “insider” gossip reports on which they often seem to be based.
I did wonder whether Enfield’s muggingly preposterous Charles act could fill a West End stage, but blessedly, it doesn’t have to. Though only three of the TV cast join him – Matthew Cottle’s priceless Edward, Tom Durant-Prichard’s vacant well-meaning Harry and Tim Wallers’ Andrew – this is a joyful ensemble. We know it has been put together pretty fast, as the Prince of Wales theatre (ha ha) loses the ghastly racist Book of Mormon, but they seem to have had fun with it.
Anyway, Camilla’s scheming has made Charles absolute monarch, enabling him to return Britain to his peasant-rich ideal of “chaps with lutes going round maypoles”. Politicians and civil servants were all “easily bought off with knighthoods”, and they send kindly Wills and Kate on a long world tour.
Which of course involves LA where the Sussex and Cambridge duchesses have a magnificent physical catfight over who made who cry. But when they find Britain a feudal state dominated by Camilla as Elizabeth I , the fab four are reconciled , and resolve to lead a democratic revolution. There’s a wickedly funny snog-off in a yurt in their encampment (amazing what you can suggest with shadow-play) and some ripe latrine jokes (this show is sweary and rude throughout).
No spoilers, because the fun lies in the pile-up of nonsense, all the way to a Stonehenge crisis when we are asked to revive a royal Tinkerbell by shouting “We believe in constitutional monarchy!”. Everyone did. A few huffy blokes behind me but in the end they had to join in.
It sails near the wind- Tracy Ann Oberman as Camilla sings “Diana – Goddam her!” to gasps as well as cheers – but the big numbers are more village-panto than Broadway. That’s good, because it feeds a sense of family ridicule rather than satire. The ensemble at last sings: “We always do our duty, and never-ever fuss – we are the Windsors! – God Save US!”. Then Enfield explains that it would be inappropriate for them to bow at the curtain call, so we all have to stand up and bow to them, while they wave..
Given our national relish for both monarchy and rude jokes, my instinct is that this one will reign and reign.