Review by Meg Kiddle
Don’t stop them now – the Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s production of We Will Rock You was full of motion, high energy, great effects and terrible one liners. However, you could see that the cast were having a great time providing what was essentially a rock concert of Queen covers.
We Will Rock You (often abbreviated as WWRY) is a jukebox musical based on the songs of British rock band, Queen, with a book by Ben Elton. The musical tells the story of a group of Bohemians who fight to restore the free exchange of thought and fashion, and live music in a distant future where everyone dresses, thinks and acts the same. Musical instruments and composers are forbidden, and rock music is all but unknown. Legend tells of a dreamer who will emerge and lead them to the guitar hidden in the rubble of remains of Wembley Stadium.
The original production of We Will Rock You opened on 14 May 2002 at the Dominion Theatre, London and it has delighted Queen music loving audiences all around the world since then. The lyrics of the songs have been amended to work in with the story.
Upon entering the Civic Centre theatre, we were greeted with a bare stage with a backdrop of multiple screens upon which a barrage of information was presented from the fictional Globalsoft corporation of iPlanet; employment opportunities, social media quizzes, and information about the demise of music and free thought. Everyone must dress the same, think the same, live music has been banned and the world is under the control of the half real, half pixel, all bad Killer Queen played in all her splendour by Kaitlyn Maxwell.
The set is essentially projected upon the screens forming much of the background, Video Designer Craig Wilkinson and his team established some fabulous background effects (a clever touch, in particular, was the video descending and arriving into the underground Bohemian headquarters) with minimal set / props movement that allowed for better flow of action.
The opening ensemble number didn’t quite deliver and even though the choreography was clever, that also could have been delivered a little more concisely to really emphasise the regimented environment that we were being transported to. Likewise, the opening dialogue contained many improvised lines which slowed the pace of the show as cast paused for the anticipated audience chuckles (of which there were a few). Sadly, this didn’t allow for a clear set up of the story (such as it is) and the show took time to gain momentum.
The action really began to move from the entry of Scaramouche played to perfection by Bronte Mitchell, who brings the character to angsty life from her first fabulous note and provided the perfect dark contrast to Adam Goodall‘s quiet and naïve Galileo. With a deceptively soft and husky speaking voice; her strong vocals showed us that the tough exterior was not all facade. She brought the exact level of sass and sexy that the role demands. The chemistry between our two protagonists was at times lacking and lacklustre with lovers tiffs feeling more like juvenile schoolyard spats. Admittedly, this is not assisted by the use of unnecessary gender heavy jokes and the stereotyping of Elton’s script.
With 24 Queen songs jammed into one show, it is easy to lose track of the already vague storyline, but Director Thomas Armstrong-Robley did well to keep the action flowing and the interest active. There was a self-confessed lean towards slapstick that served to keep the audience amused and engaged together with the heavy use of one liners where some of those had been updated to bring in more current musical references with effectiveness.
Brit (Tristan James) and Oz (Georgia Spark) were beautifully matched, and their rapport made them easily the crowd favourites. James provided excellent comedy and life to the role of Brit, but it was Spark who was the standout performer of the show with her powerhouse vocals and exuberance in every scene. Her ‘No One But You’ was both sensitive and powerful and was the anthem of this show tugging at every heart string in the theatre.
Khashoggi (James Burton) played Chief of Police and iPlanet’s guard dog opposite the larger-than-life energy force that is Kaitlyn Maxwell; and delivered to the brief perfectly. His vocals were strong and secure. Maxwell, herself took to the stage with such confidence and cheeky energy that left no one in any doubt that this Killer Queen was always in charge and would stop at nothing to keep her power.
One could easily think that the ladies stole the show, and you would almost be right, except for Buddy (Adrian Carr). Carr played the aging librarian, leader of the Bohemians to utter perfection, his comedic timing was natural and vocals endearing in ‘These Are The Days of Our Lives’. A flawless performance from an obviously seasoned professional.
The cast was rounded out by an ensemble of 21 who sang and danced up a storm of the Queen classics showing great enthusiasm. Their vocals were sometimes lost in the mix as the sound was not always well balanced.
Musical Director Robert Clark has an impressive background both in performance and in Musical Direction. Under his direction he has assembled a professional group of musicians that played technically well. Unfortunately it felt as if the musicians occasionally lacked a passion for the music (which is what the show is about) and the musical entries were often late leaving obvious pauses on stage.
Choreographer Simon Lind provided us some clever and sharp choreography that indicated our technological age of uniformity and the sameness of an Orwellian lifestyle. Costumes and wigs were very appropriate to the futuristic world, and well designed by Mary Slattery and Delma Odger, the use of pink and purple hues for the Bohemians contrasted well with the drabness of the Gaga Kids.
Visually, Ipswich Musical Theatre’s production is effective and, musically, it has some very strong elements. The show itself is cheesy and loveable and this production delivers true to this. The main attraction is most definitely the music of Queen and a crowd-pleasing version was delivered.
Ipswich Musical Theatre’s production of We Will Rock You played from 10-18 September at the Ipswich Civic Centre to spectacular success and we cannot wait to see what they do next!