Tuesday, 28 January 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: We Will Rock You - The Palace Theatre, Manchester.

The creative and imaginative potential of Queen’s music and lyrics means it was only a matter of time before “We Will Rock You” would come into theatrical fruition.

Originally, it premiered in 2002 at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End. Since then over 16 million theatre fans have seen this jukebox musical, comprised of Queen’s 24 biggest hits, in 19 counties. Now it was time for Manchester (a city thoroughly associated with music) to experience the uber-visual and concert-like production of “We Will Rock You”.

It has just struck me now that the poster and programme look more like the end of the show rather than most of the show designed in the future. The book was written by Ben Elton about a futuristic and space-age comedy which doesn’t take itself too seriously. A similar approach, “Rock of Ages” adopted in some respects.

In a “Star Wars” inspired opening, we were told we were still on Earth but not as we know it – it was called the iPlanet. Rock and Roll, the very concept the musical attempted to dissect, had died a dismal death in a world where life was lived online. The planet’s inhabitants moved, talked and behaved as one; uniformed with no sense of individuality. They had been uploaded to the technological cloud listening to manufactured, money-making pop with complete absence of heart and soul, which Rock and Roll once possessed. Clearly, the script has been updated a number of times since 2002 to make it more relevant. It is certainly an indication of where our real world could be heading if we’re not careful.

This dystopian and uncreative world was enforced by Dictator, Killer Queen who would do everything she could to keep everybody working as slaves to the system to benefit her and accumulation of wealth and power. Gaga University was part of her plan to indoctrinate the next generation to bow down to power and submit to the system. The musical had an abundance of musical and film references which will probably make up quite a proportion of the word count for this review.

All was not lost on this planet, there was a talk of a Dreamer whose destiny was to work with the Bohemians (The Resistance) to re-discover and re-introduce Rock and Roll to the masses once more. Could the Dreamer be Galileo Figaro? He met Scaramouche, she was also different to the rest like he was. They became the best of friends. Can they work together to overthrow the tyrannical and authoritarian ruling of Killer Queen? Watching this was like going to the IMAX Cinema with its powerful sound turned way up high in the sky and its ultra-visual display.

Galileo was portrayed by Ian McIntosh as a creative and “out of the box” type of character with a strong moral compass and heart. Throw in a subtle sense of arrogance and immaturity too but nevertheless a character which wins over the crowd. At least Gaz had Scaramouche (Elena Skye) to tell him off for been intermittingly egotistical. She was headstrong, independent but went through a transformational journey of learning to love herself more and be confident. McIntosh’s voice and character didn’t imitate Freddie Mercury, he was doing his own thing, but you could tell Mercury played a role and influence. In fact, the grittiness to McIntosh’s singing voice resembled Mercury and it possessed the same amount of power. Skye’s singing voice, likewise, was stratospheric. Her riffs and runs and occasional soft singing just showed how versatile she was. Jenny O’Leary’s voice was insane too. It was out of this world how low she could go and how high she could sing. All of my praise can be extended to the whole ensemble who really set the bench mark for high-quality and resourceful singing. As the show didn’t take itself seriously, the characterisation was more exaggerated and played with stereotypes like, the lovers, the villain and the sidekick.

Directed by Cornelius Baltus, the messages of not becoming a sheep, staying true to you and doing what is right shone through like the starry spectacle this was. Relationships were explored well, especially the youthful, playful, and bickering rapport between Scaramouche and Galileo as seen in “Hammer To Fall”. The choreography was robotic, synchronised, and appropriately a little underwhelming when Killer Queen was around. However, once we went underground to see the Bohemian’s grass root movement take shape, the dancing was looser, freeing and packed a punch.

Design teams had clearly worked closely together to bring this entertaining and outlandish vision and plot premise to life. I just wrote down a bunch of TV shows, musicals, music videos, and films, the designs of which reminded me of how this production looks and feels. I scribbled down: “The Matrix”, “Daft Punk”, “Doctor Who”, “Rock of Ages”, “Bat Out of Hell”, “Wall-E”, “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “The Tribe”, and “Battlestar Gallatica”. So, if you happen to like any of those you’ll appreciate the costumes and set. Rob Sinclair and Douglas Green’s lighting work established locations and atmosphere within the story, it regularly switched from being theatrical to concert-like – enhancing the rhythm of Queen’s music.

I say it doesn’t take itself seriously but the show was serious in saying: “Rock and Roll is whatever you want it to be”. It’s open to interpretation and they made the argument that Queen inspired the “Rock and Roll” in others. You can see that to be fair. The story did search for meaning and truth in its quest to find authentically composed music and written lyrics. It payed tribute to those in the music industry who died young which was moving. The whole thing was an intergalactic adventure of feel-good escapism which embodied the spirit and pizazz of Queen. A celebration of the creative process, individuality, and the transformative power of music.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 27/1/20

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