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The Crown Jewels is a new comedy play written by BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Simon Nye and is currently out on tour, following a Summer run in London at The Garrick Theatre. With direction by Olivier Award recipient Sean Foley, it features an all-star cast, specifically Al Murray, Mel Giedroyc, Neil Morrissey, Joe Thomas, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Aidan McArdle, who are supported by West End performers Tanvi Virmani and Adonis Siddique. The play is based in Canterbury this week at The Marlowe Theatre and is Fletcher’s first appearance at the venue since playing the villain in last year’s Sleeping Beauty pantomime. I was excited to review the show and see how this group of mega-stars would work as a company.
A comical retelling of Colonel Thomas Blood’s 1671 plot to steal the Crown Jewels, it’s a madcap heist story focusing on the protectors of the Tower of London, the band of thieves and King Charles II. Whilst it follows Nye’s script, the comedy style leaves plenty of room for improvisation and adlib, which is where performers Murray and Giedroyc come into their own. It is hilarious in places and a little flat in others, with the material lacking structure in the improvised sections.
At moments it feels like the pair are on stage doing 17th-century stand-up in Michael Taylor’s period costumes. The elements of audience interaction are priceless and continue throughout the show, but it can be so easy to lose sense of the wider plot as the material goes completely off on a tangent and the audience (and cast) are in fits of unprecedented laughter. The show quite literally goes off the rails throughout the performance and it is pure comedy chaos watching the production get back on track.
A play of two halves
The first act is far funnier than the second, largely because of its silly comedy style which is full of innuendo. In the first half I was totally perplexed by the madcap comedy style, but it was so outrageous that I wanted to find out more. Within the 17th-century setting, the rude jokes feel absolutely ridiculous, but this is actually where the production’s strengths lie. It is all very panto, but the more the company and creative team follow this approach, the funnier the material is.
Unfortunately the second act didn’t live up to my expectations, with Murray not managing to generate the same amount of reaction from the audience. The comedy style is quite polarising and it really works in the initial part of the production, but it wears thin later on due to repetition. Also the local jibes towards Kent which are much appreciated at the start are used a little too much.
Giedroyc and Fletcher have some humorous lines towards the end of the show and Giedroyc’s stint as the French Noblewoman is a notable addition to the latter half of the production. Without these elements, I think The Crown Jewels would work better as a one-act, shorter piece.
Costumes and set design
Michael Taylor’s costume design is extremely lavish and colourful, adding some vibrancy to the ornate palace and muted Tower of London sets. The majority of the cast wear wigs that match the time period and it adds to the humour of the show seeing such famous performers with larger than life hairstyles. The sets themselves aren’t particularly game-changing in their depiction of the different London locations. Footmen aid the transition of the sets, making the scene changes almost comical, but the play seems to rely heavily on the notable names within the cast and in doing so, it falls short in its visual design and staging. An outlier to this is the Tower of London map set with the puppets, which is comedy gold and a fantastic way to close act one. It would’ve been brilliant to see more daring and creative ideas like this!
Without a shadow of a doubt, Mel Giedroyc is the star of the show as Mrs Edwards/French Noblewoman. Giedroyc portrays two absolutely hilarious characters: a protector of the jewels and a French noble guest visiting for the King’s Coronation. The first character is brash and flirts a lot, whilst the other is classy and cheeky. The dual roles showcase the depth of Giedroyc’s comedy skills, showing two sides to the performer. She is also partly responsible for the infectious comedy dynamic between the Edwards family, as the banter between them is so natural and effortless. The performers, specifically Fletcher, were clearly struggling to keep a straight face in places and you can’t replicate this level of natural and unintentional comedy.
Fletcher has two small parts in the play (Elizabeth Edwards and Lady of the Bedchamber), but it is a welcome surprise to hear her sing. Fletcher’s singing acts as the book ends and dividers of the production, setting the scenes and bringing the production to a close. It brings the material down to earth, in and amongst the comedy madness.
The Crown Jewels… a work in progress?
What The Crown Jewels lacks in refinement and polished theatre, it more than makes up for in its over-the-top comedy style and standout performances. It is let down by the weaker second act, but the cast are clearly having a blast performing The Crown Jewels and it is worth giving the show a try for Mel Giedroyc’s comedy performance alone. Last minute tickets for the Canterbury run can be purchased via The Marlowe Theatre’s website.
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Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for The Crown Jewels was gifted in exchange for a review.