To celebrate my son’s 10th birthday the Emmines family took a trip to the theatre to see the touring version of We Will Rock You.
I must say it wouldn’t have been my first choice of entertainment. Indeed it was quite bizarre to think only a few weeks ago I had been at The Grand Theatre entranced by Opera North’s emotional telling of Madame Butterfly. Still low expectations can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises and it was so wonderful to be all together (and everyone in a lovely mood, not always a given these days).
The band, Queen, have always had a very special place in my heart. The Greatest Hits tape was the musical backbone of many a family holiday; the single common denominator that could bridge generational and fraternal differences.
And to me Another One Bites the Dust is the sound of the Youth Club. That disco bassline sounding just as exciting today as it did thumping out at St Mary’s Church Hall speakers all those years ago. Pop music is Proustian. Hear a tune from your past, you are transported there in an instant. All those sensations, memories, feelings even smells rushing back stronger than a rip tide.
Ahem, yes well, anyway, back to the show in hand. I have to say upfront. I did enjoy it. Unashamedly so.
It is set in a dystopian future that has banned rock and any sort of music or instruments that generate soulful euphoria, the “Bohemian Rhapsody”. With nods to Orwell, A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the story worked well especially as a device to deliver us as many Queen classics as possible (I lost count after 16).
Opening with Radio Gaga performed by High School Musical drones, the message was clear, Simon Cowell and computerised music are the arch-enemies. A line about pop stars’ careers being over before their song had finishing playing raised one of the biggest laughs of the night.
There were wider themes being explored too. Globalisation, the loss of individuality and the relentless of homogenisation of not just our music but our lives today was being played out too. When you consider the show is now in its tenth year, it felt remarkably fresh and pertinent to current issues. I could see real parallels to the We are the 99% protestors. It can be no coincidence that Ben Elton named the villain’s company Globalsoft.
It would be an impossible job for anyone to live up to Freddy Mercury’s singing or stage presence, the cast acquitted themselves well. The show’s band was excellent and I was delighted they were revealed before the end to receive their very deserved applause.
With all the references to manufactured music it was almost a post modern twist when I realised the lead was being played, by none other than Noel Sullivan, last seen in Hear’ Say, the very first winner of Popstars, X-factor’s fore-runner. Tricky Dicky from Eastenders, Ian Reddington was an excellent Pop, the old hippy-cum-roadie, a man who could have shared many a Camberwell Carrot with Withnail & I’s Danny. His performance was very assured. His skill and energy, when he came on in the second half, lifted everyone in the theatre, actors and audience alike.
At the interval my daughter said very disappointedly “Oh they haven’t played We Will Rock You”. By time they did, she was up on her feet dancing away. In a nutshell, that is what made it so good, just singing and dancing with my family. Everyone left the theatre smiling and tapping their feet. You couldn’t help but think Freddie would have been delighted.