EFR - Reviews of Royal Vauxhall

Royal Vauxhall

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Lizzy Galliver

at 10:07 on 22nd Aug 2016

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Full disclosure: I have never heard of Kenny Everett and I was not alive in the ‘80s. Minor matters aside, ‘Royal Vauxhall’ is brimming with so much vitality that the loss of a few Thatcherite quips does little to quell the unstoppable force of Desmond O’Connor’s most recent musical masterpiece. It is 1988. Princess Diana, Freddy Mercury and Kenny Everett sit around a Trivial Pursuit board guzzling champagne, snorting coke and bemoaning the afflictions of the rich and famous. An unlikely trio, but, according to Cleo Rocos' book and the ever-reputable Daily Mail, this actually happened. Right before the closet Freddy and Kenny dress the princess in drag and whisk her off to London’s most legendary gay bar: The Royal Vauxhall Tavern (AKA the RVT… obviously).

Chaos, unsurprisingly, ensues. Heartfelt declarations of friendship turn to drunken tears of betrayal, but not before a series of sharp, catchy songs add some bite to the performance. Discounting a rather redundant moment of audience participation (kudos to Alan from Lancaster), the play mesmerises throughout. Kenny’s psychedelic experience allows for some more eccentric directorial decisions; the image of Margaret Thatcher penetrating Kenny with a strap-on ("Fuck me Maggie! Give me your iron fist!"), for example, is unlikely to leave my head any time soon.

In among all the hedonistic debauchery, however, a good dose of sombre introspection is needed. While humour abounds from start to finish, ‘Royal Vauxhall’ is cloaked in tragedy. As a more subdued Diana seeks solace from a loveless marriage – eschewing the white stuff, nonetheless (“I’ve had enough Charlie to last me a lifetime”) – a gurning Kenny and ‘Captain Coke’ Freddy persistently douse their sorrows in "pills and thrills and lines of coke". As Kenny strains to hide his homosexuality from the relentless grasp of the press, Freddy’s realisation of his mortality post-HIV diagnosis brings life jarringly back down to earth. Fragility poignantly exposed, it becomes clear that stardom is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Drama is occasionally a little overstuffed and characterisation slightly one-dimensional. With the significant exception of a rather powerful ‘Don’t Try To Fuck With Diana’ song, the nation’s sweetheart is afforded little self agency or depth, pitted constantly against her male counterparts and conspicuously absent husband. Objection aside, stellar performances across the board render 'Royal Vauxhall' a slickly executed show from the outset. Particular praise must go to cabaret star Sarah-Louise Young for her smooth transitions between Lady Di, Margaret Thatcher and an Irish priest, but Tom Giles as Freddy Mercury and Matthew Jones as Kenny Everett also capture they characters with impressive authenticity.

Steering clear of some of the more clichéd elements of jazzy musicals, 'Royal Vauxhall' offers some solid evening entertainment and leaves one feeling surprisingly moved. I walk home feeling thankful for my incredibly mundane existence.

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Zoe Bowman

at 11:36 on 22nd Aug 2016

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The premise of 'Royal Vauxhall' is an interesting one; what happens when three of the biggest icons of the eighties embark on a wild night out to escape from the turbulent world of fame? Set in 1988, writer Desmond O'Connor takes a popular rumour involving Princess Diana (Sarah-Louise Young), Freddie Mercury (Tom Giles) and Kenny Everett (Matthew Jones) and uses their illustrious encounter to explore issues of fame and homosexuality in 1980s Britain. Whilst certain aspects of the production detract from the issues at hand, overall this show uses excessively crude humour and crushing reality to create a performance that becomes unexpectedly moving.

The show opens with an energetic entrance from our three characters, who offer beverages to multiple members of the audience in a flash of camaraderie that makes one feel like a part of their exclusive circle of friends. Whilst this unruly behaviour rarely wanes, throughout the production both O'Connor and the supporting cast still manage to communicate the more serious difficulties of fame.

United by drug use and their sexuality, Freddie and Kenny attempt to help Diana in forgetting her marriage problems by taking her to The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a famed nightclub in London. This setting provides the perfect environment for the trio to confront their problems and communicate perfectly to the audience the issues surrounding fame. However, with scenes including a game of 'Wankety Wank' and Everett's drug-fuelled hallucination of Margaret Thatcher sporting a strap-on penis, at times Royal Vauxhall tends to be excessively crude in its humour.

Although the majority of the musical numbers are obvious in their inspirations - both Queen and Bowie hits can be identified in a selection of the tracks - overall they are mostly uninspiring numbers that are used purely as prompts for the story. However, Young shines in her poignant musical performances, insisting that you "Don't try to fuck with Diana" in a flurry of emotion. Whilst it is commendable that O'Connor chooses to focus on issues surrounding homosexuality, throughout the show one often feels like the performance overindulges in homosexual stereotypes through the constant inclusion of excessive innuendos; for a show performed in 2016, this interpretation can be seen as extremely counter-productive.

Overall, Royal Vauxhall provides audiences with a rowdy, crude experience which holds an ultimately poignant story. The energy of the performers coupled with the vibrant costumes and staging provide the perfect contrast to the problems that each of the characters are going through. This culminates in an interesting combination, which brings issues of homosexuality, fame and drug use to the attention of the audience.

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