Stuart King

Review: WE WILL ROCK YOU at London Coliseum

We Will Rock You - London Coliseum Over 20 years have elapsed since Ben Elton and Queen’s theatrical collaboration first hit the West End where despite universal derision from critics, it eventually clocked-up an impressive 12 years at its 2000+ seater home at The Dominion. Boasting 24 of the band’s most recognisable rock anthems, WE WILL ROCK YOU now begins a 12-week summer residency at ENO’s even larger capacity venue The London Coliseum.

In essence a juke box musical, the show’s narrative is a loose and deliberately trite yarn about a ramshackle group of Bohemian futurists who live in a world where individuality has been eroded to the point that everyone looks, thinks and behaves the same. This state is largely attributable to a domineering Killer Queen who maintains a monopoly over thought, taste and opinion through mobile devices controlled by her humourless planetary corporation Global Soft. The parodies with reality are unsubtle and come thick and fast along with glaringly obvious lyric references and corny lines. It’s unsubtle satire and socio-political commentary delivered via a megaphone strapped to a breeze block.

Much is being made of Ben Elton’s first time, onstage presence in the show, where he assumes the role of the Rebel Leader. Other notables include Brenda Edwards as the aforementioned Killer Queen and Lee Mead as her henchman Khashoggi in a production which unashamedly serves merely as an excuse to hear those amazingly energised Queen hits performed live. Fans of the band (which includes this reviewer) and probably fans of the original show, will undoubtedly queue for returns but beware, the extensive marble interior of the Coliseum is designed to carry operatic voices, so those of a more vintage disposition should take protection if they are to avoid bleeding ears. The amplification is ramped to such an extent that many on stage performers struggled with pitching and had to fight the band to be heard. There is an obvious distinction between a rock concert volume and an unpleasant and unmusical cacophonous distortion, but the technicians on the sound desk unfortunately managed to achieve the latter state at the performance this reviewer attended.

Setting aside Mr Elton’s intentionally corny distillation of old-rocker-meets-hippy-meets-Comedy-Store-veteran, (think twinkly-eyed Peter Ustinov in Logan’s Run with a dash of Old Deuteronomy) everyone gamely fought the decibels to make themselves heard and understood, but it was a losing battle from the outset despite some amazing voices in the cast. Of course Bohemian Rhapsody was saved until last (together with a surprise which brought the audience to its feet) but by then, most felt they deserved a reward for endurance and a large glass of hemlock to subdue the rampant tinnitus.

No doubt this dinosaur will generate another clutch of equally unfavourable critical reviews, but just as assuredly, it will also find a whole new audience and continue to put bums on seats. Go if you love Queen (but invest in some ear defenders).