Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Susannah Clapp

The week in theatre: Rock Follies; The Crown Jewels – review

Angela Marie Hurst, Carly Bawden and Zizi-Strallen in Rock Follies.
‘A twist of unpredictability’: Angela Marie Hurst, Carly Bawden and Zizi Strallen shine in Rock Follies. Photograph by Johan Persson Photograph: Johan Persson

It is more than 45 years since Rock Follies fire-crackered its way across British television screens. Howard Schuman’s story of how three pissed-off, talented, patronised, often-groped female actors created a band called the Little Ladies (“It’s IRONIC!”) was satire and celebration: a sceptical look at Britain in the 70s and an imaginative leap into the future. Rula Lenska purred; Charlotte Cornwell mused; Julie Covington sparred. All floated on the music of Andy Mackay, saxophonist and founder member of Roxy Music. They steered towards independence with new voices.

Chloë Moss’s new stage adaptation, with songs by Schuman and Mackay, is a skimmed version of the TV series, staged with vivacity by Dominic Cooke, who, having soared at the National six years ago with Sondheim’s Follies, looks set on a trilogy: Ziegfeld next? The action speeds and rackets along, with flash and some on-the-back-foot making-do. Vicki Mortimer’s set and Kinnetia Isidore’s costumes are on-the-money gaudy: glitter streamers, neon strips, tiny Lurex shorts, skinny leather trousers. A live band – guitar, bass and drums – makes the stage shake.

Crucially, each of the LLs has a twist of unpredictability. As Q, a woman used to languorously dripping sensuality, and now turning her back on a lifetime of soft-porn roles, Zizi Strallen won the press night’s biggest round of applause when she finally susses and chucks out her sponging bloke. Carly Bawden is delicately troubled as Anna, the Cambridge graduate trying to rock when she is “less Suzi Quatro, more Susan Hampshire”. Angela Marie Hurst is terrific as the confrontational, gifted vocal linchpin, Dee, whose life turns out to be more trad than her lyrics.

Moss’s script is neither as funny nor as hard-hitting as the original; the over-crammed action is less fluent and there are fewer touches of period weirdness. I missed the moment – it would be nice to think it was no longer thought credible – when Dee, serving as a lovely assistant to a sleazebag, is required to perform with propellers whizzing on her nipples. The numbers are mostly fragmentary. Still, the lineaments of the marvellous original gleam through: in the spoof of niminy-piminy blandness in Broadway Annie; in the lovely croon of Glenn Miller Is Missing (with the women dressed in boxy WAAF uniforms); in the gritty aspiration of Stairway; and in what now looks like a wave to punk in the ferociously undeferential royal anthem Jubilee.

That song alone knocks spots off anything in Sean Foley’s lamentable, regally inspired production of The Crown Jewels. Simon (Men Behaving Badly) Nye’s new play is based on the real-life theft of the crown and pieces of coronation regalia by Colonel Thomas Blood in 1671. It hinges on the clubbed-to-death old joke about the shape of sceptre and orb. It manages to be at once simple-minded and confusing, skimpy and flabby – a show stuffed with stars but devoid of star quality.

Al Murray and Mel Giedroyc in period costume, he as a leering charles ii, she in pale blue satin dress with lace collar
‘A show stuffed with stars but devoid of star quality’: Al Murray and Mel Giedroyc in The Crown Jewels. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning

Mel Giedroyc plays both a slattern with one tooth and lasciviously cocked eyebrow and an arch French aristo; as the latter, she pulls off an elegantly risque moment. Al “Pub Landlord” Murray also doubles up: as a dolt and as the ringlet-tossing King Charles II. In a show that has a fair bit of audience-teasing impro, both actors are miles better off-script than on it. As the robbing colonel, Aidan McArdal is peculiarly muffled: perhaps he was trying to perform a public service by keeping the words to himself.

Watching this made me wonder how Mike Bartlett’s play Charles III, first seen at the Almeida nine years ago, has stood the test of time. I seem to remember that Prince Harry appeared in it looking like a hunted fox…

Star ratings (out of five)
Rock Follies ★★★
The Crown Jewels

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.