We Will Rock You is a fun and energetic show that unashamedly knows and embraces its target demographic, from a position somewhere between a tribute show and a jukebox musical: an unlikely vision of the future that's nonetheless an enjoyable ride, due to being built from the iconic music of Queen.
I headed to a packed New Theatre auditorium on a Monday night, as a casual/moderate Queen fan and angsty millennial (this becomes important later!). The audience is greeted by a starry skyscape - possibly a nod to Brian May's astronomical interest - before projected text explains, Star Wars-style, that we are witnessing planet Earth (now renamed as the iPlanet) centuries from now, when the homogenising of pop by the likes of X-Factor has reached its apparently logical conclusion: a creativity-free dictatorship, where music is not made with love but manufactured by the GlobalSoft Corporation, and free-thinking and individualism are banned. We follow two young rebels, the self-christened Galileo 'Gaz' Figaro and his love interest Scaramouche (yes, really), on the run after being cast out from Gaga University for challenging the status quo. They meet up with other rebels, the Bohemians, who identify Galileo as a prophesied chosen one destined to bring back the spirit of 'Rock and roll, whatever that is' in a Rhapsody, based on his dreams comprising of fragments of rock lyrics. The fusion of musical references with this fantastical plot is clearly imaginative, if far from subtle.
The music is, of course, excellent: not just because of the source material (with the score being almost exclusively a selection of greatest hits), but also due to ingenious choices in the arrangement: while Ian McIntosh's Galileo does beautiful justice to Freddie Mercury's distinctive voice, many of the other parts are adapted to suit the performers' different vocal styles, instead of simply paying straightforward homage to the original tracks. The soloists are all hugely talented, and clearly enjoying themselves, but this approach is particularly effective for Jenny O'Leary's charismatically brassy Killer Queen and Amy Di Bartolomeo's Oz, by turns amusing and sincere. Another favourite performance for me was Adam Strong as the villainous Khashoggi, channelling Alan Rickman in his emphatic disdain. All together, the ensemble cast whipped up an audible storm that filled the ageing crowd with energy and had them pleading prematurely for an encore.
There is a tremendous amount of detail in the look of the show: speaking to a high production value. The set is one of the most elaborate I've ever seen, with projections and colourful lights giving the sci-fi stage design an almost cinematic quality. The costumes are also very enjoyable: dystopia never looked so sparkly! There are strokes of genius from Ben Elton, and I had to admire the re-purposing of the lyrics of 'One Vision' and 'Play The Game' into conformist propaganda. However, the majority of the laughs in the script came from the crow-barring of pop references into the dialogue, and from the sense that the show and its fans were grumpy old rock types, rolling their eyes at 'kids these days' and our dependence on phones. While some of the lyrical references have been modernised to include 'Gangnam Style' and Taylor Swift (as well as a redesigning of the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, decked out with somewhat phallic 'microphones'), which courted laughs from younger sectors of the crowd, the prevailing attitude seemed peculiarly dated. The real political implications of our unprecedented technological advances are a rich seam of worry and parody, so it feels a bit lazy to stereotype to such a degree, leaving the show's message and its characters uncompelling. Nevertheless, it's possible to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the silliness, the glamour and, above all, the fabulous music, which undeniably fills the theatre.