Seeing a story told in the place where it apparently happened is something of a treat; those of you who have attempted to watch Netflix’s The Crown within Buckingham Palace will know just how difficult it can be.
Luckily, there’s another royal drama which can be seen without risking a police caution or a pesky restraining order. Based on a dubious tale by Kenny Everett associate Cleo Rocos, musical comedy Royal Vauxhall recounts the night when the TV comedian, rock musician Freddy Mercury and Princess Diana decided to go out to the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
As we pass the twentieth “Dianaversary”, this show makes a welcome comeback and is worth a revisit; I’ve already reviewed this show before when it first opened at this venue but it was a treat to come back and see it all over again, updated and with a new cast. Writer Desmond O’Connor takes on the role of the Queen frontman while Joe Morrow plays Everett and Carrie Marx is Diana.
This time around, more of the songs hit harder and stronger and there are a few which, unlike those in certain West End musicals, are memorable, smart and engaging. Ensemble number Making A Man Of Diana is sheer music hall magnificence, Don’t Fuck With Diana is beautifully blasted by Marx and the Freddy solo Live Before I Die is as strident a call to arms as any Queen hit.
The new cast seem to have a ball as their various characters. Marx probably has the finest voice of the trio but also perfectly captures Diana’s gentle manner and inner steeliness. Everett’s complicated life, which is portrayed here as a lifestyle consisting of class-A nose candy, anonymous sex and marital strife, is brought out in a wonderfully nuanced and expressive performance by Morrow. Despite a series of outfits that scream Freddy from a mile off, O’Connor gives a charismatic performance without ever being truly convincing as either the public or private side of a man who was as ebullient on stage as he was awkward when off it.
The script is, for the most part, just as highly witty and insightful, dropping in a few in-jokes while cleverly playing up the broader themes around trust, mortality, morality and what it meant (and still means) to be a very public figure with a troubled private life in a time of media sensationalism. Sure, there are a few times when the humour sinks to just above panto level and there are a couple of gags that could be sold in bulk in Poundland, but the characterisations and situations ring true amid a carefully constructed storyline which isn’t afraid to dip into the darkness every now and then.
Quite whether Royal Vauxhall will return to its spiritual home here in South London is unknown but, whether it does or not, this thrilling escapade carries with it the spirit of the RVT and, like its protagonists, deserves to stand tall among its contemporary peers today, tomorrow and in the years to come.