Stuart King

Review: THE CROWN JEWELS at Garrick Theatre

Ten years after the Stuart dynasty has been returned to the throne and with Ireland reduced to little more than a serf state, Colonel Blood (Aiden McArdle) attempts a daring heist to strike a blow against the English oppressor. Billed as a Restoration romp, a bewigged Al Murray assumes the crown as Charles II but with largely underwhelmingly results.

The Crown Jewels The Crown Jewels at the Garrick Theatre. Photo credit Hugo Glendinning.

As any schoolboy of a certain vintage will remember, the self-styled Colonel Blood’s derring-do and attempt in 1671 to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London had nearly proved successful, but at the last moment he found himself imprisoned along with his accomplices. What most do not know, is that by being a humorous and entertaining storyteller, Blood curried favour with the monarch, was released and ultimately rewarded with lands in Ireland (possibly County Kildare) and became a royal informant. Accounts differ about his subsequent travels and escapades with some suggesting he remained largely in London, once again being imprisoned in 1680 and dying soon after. Whatever the truth, he must certainly have been a lively character and fathered 7 (or possibly as many as 9) children.

Here, playwright Simon Nye has woven a groanworthy and immature concoction around his players’ King Vs Commoner roles. The scenes prove in the main unsophisticated and clunky, with only the actors’ stagecraft and comedy credentials to fall back on. Indeed opening night was postponed - presumably whilst the performers attempted to salvage what could be exhumed from a script riddled with thuddingly unfunny moments. Murray’s larger-than-life presence dominates the stage and his 10 minutes of audience ad-libbing and interplay is by far the most amusing of the evening. Mel Giedroyc (who this reviewer generally finds irritating and genuinely unfunny) here manages to pull-off something of a surprise coup in the double roles of a French aristocrat and Mrs Edwards - the wife of the ancient soldier who is charged with keeping the state’s regalia safely locked in a cupboard. Carrie Hope Fletcher pops in and out of scenes as their daughter Elizabeth but has little more than a couple of opportunities to dazzle with her lungpower and wondrous tunefulness. Most lamentable of all is Neil Morrisey - once a giant of television comedy, here with virtually nothing funny to do or say as Captain Perrot. One wonders what possessed the latter pair to sign-up for this production which is flabby in all the wrong places and screams-out for the wit of Molière or Sheridan.
The set and costumes work just fine. Sean Foley’s directorial pace is suitably jaunty. But as an historical comedy drama, it flounders horribly and is sure to be instantly forgotten — not least because it has peppered its appeal so widely, that it has ended-up with no obvious audience to which it might appeal.

The Crown Jewels Tickets