We Will Rock You
This worldwide smash hit musical, set to the song catalogue of Queen and written by Ben Elton, is on tour across the UK, bringing a story of dystopian quest, love and of course rock music. Having ran for 12 years in London's West End receiving countless awards and rave reviews, it is time for the Globe Theatre in Stockton to play host. (The Globe is a fantastic venue, brilliant sight lines, very comfortable seats and stunning art decor design. Most impressive was the huge Front of House team who were all extremely friendly and welcoming).
The story is set many years in the future where everything is controlled by the state through digital media companies, where lives only play out online and where the people follow the format like sheep. Everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same. Musical instruments and composers are forbidden, and rock music is all but unknown. Everything is digital, condensed into a tiny snippet so as to briefly capture attention before it becomes old and obsolete, replaced with the next flash in the pan. It's quite remarkable to think Ben Elton wrote this so many years ago, before the rise of You Tube, Tik Tok, even BGT but the thread of his story was, and still is, very prophetic.
Our leads, Galileo (Ian McIntosh) and Scaramouch (Elena Skye) are lovestruck youngsters, yet to conform to the mass indoctrination of the Global Tech. Galileo spends all his time channelling the voices in his head into words, unbeknownst to him (but forming the main premise of the story) they are lyrics from songs of the past, songs which have been outlawed by the Killer Queen (Jenny O'Leary). It is fun, but somewhat challenging, trying to keep up with spotting all the song titles as he speaks, so full are his lines of hit tunes from the past 60 years, but clearly Elton had a lot of joy in weaving in as many as he could.
Galileo's quest is to make sense of this all, find the Bohemians, a group of outcasts led by Cliff (Michael McKell) and release the power of Rock, all the while avoiding the overlords who would see him neutralised and his original thoughts erased.
A lot of the story is very tounge in cheek, not so much 'clever in jokes' but 'in your face' pop references. Cliff and his Bohemians have named themselves on past pop stars (which they found on old posters etc) but without the cultural references they've not quite got it right; Meatloaf is a small feisty young girl, Britney Spears is a strapping, muscular guy and even Cliff uses his full name 'Sir Cliff Richard' without truly understanding the title. Other pop references are more aligned to Queen themselves and their journey, which fans of the legends will enjoy spotting.
This brings us onto the soundtrack itself. There are many rock and pop musicals; Moulin Rouge, School of Rock, Vampires Rock, Rock of Ages etc How these work so well is that the story is supplemented and enhanced by using the right song at the right time - being able to choose from pretty much any song helps to ensure this is as seamless as possible. Sadly, where We Will Rock You falls down, and it's very strange to be saying this as a lifelong Queen fan, are the song choices, or more, how they feel shoe-horned into the story. At times it feels like a sixth form end of year jukebox show with the dialogue only serving to segue to the next song and the characters dreamt up in the bar one evening, slowly getting more outrageous as the drinks flowed. The role of Killer Queen is debatable at best; a prime example, having her sing 'Fat Bottomed Girls' - a song which is clearly to be sung by a boy lamenting after larger ladies just, doesn't make sense.
The writing feels like it has been updated for the current production but clearly not by Ben Elton as it jolts and jars against the original - trying too hard to 'be current' it still leaves some 2001 references and thus puzzling many in the audience as to when it is meant to be - perhaps a full update would have worked better.
There are some great vocal performances, Ian McIntosh is no Freddy but he can certainly deliver the Queen leads with confidence, power and feeling. Elena Skye is also very accomplished, though having her try and follow some of Mercury's massive vocal range was somewhat unfair. The choreography and costumes, especially for the Globaltech interludes are tight and impactful, as are the Bohemians. The band, all playing live, are by far the most impressive element of the show; they reproduce the Queen sounds brilliantly.
Clearly by the very impressive turn out for a Tuesday after the long jubilee weekend, We Will Rock You is still very much in demand; fans of jukebox musicals will no doubt enjoy the 'hit list' though I feel some Queen purists will possibly flinch at the bastardisation of pop royalty's greatest band.