Rockstars! The Senior School production of ‘We Will Rock You’ doesn’t just rock the house - it brings the house down, baby!
The time is 2046. A dystopian future where no band plays, where music is outlawed, and creativity banned. The Killer Queen rules the airwaves, and a generation of kids are wired up screen addicts whose brains have gone Radio GaGa. But some have not forgotten the ancient texts of rock ‘n’ roll. Hidden out in a forgotten wasteland called Vegas, holed up in the Hard Rock Café - last bastion of musical creativity - a band of Bohemians still believe that one day a saviour will come, a dreamer with rock ‘n’ roll in his soul who will bring back the music to the iPlanet. And when he does, they – and the audience – are in for the rock ‘n’ roll treat of the year!
But things don’t look good to start with. The audience are met with a desolate urban wasteland over which a wind sweeps hauntingly; Madonna vogues and Michael Jackson moonwalks on fuzzy broken TV screens; whilst tattered posters remind us of the late greats – Oasis, The Beatles, Boy George, The Boomtown Rats, The Spice Girls, Britney, Elvis, The Sex Pistols – all now extinct. Then a harsh warning sounds out over the tannoy as the audience are told that singing along to these show tunes will result in house arrest! But this particular reviewer can be led away in chains, and I defy anyone watching this show to resist the rap sheet. Because from the moment the music starts, I guarantee you won’t be able to fight the beat!
Up first are the GaGa Kids, the Teen Queens of this weird and wonderful world. Pink wigged, silver-legginged, tutu-wearing automata with artificial smiles, bitmoji vibes and all the personality of ‘non-player characters’, the Radio GaGas are wired up, plugged in, screen addicts who ingest synthetic pop. Oh, but these kids sure know how to dance! And sing! Manic mannequins meet Michael Jackson’s Robot in the opening number that sets the tone for a show as colourful and joyous as those cotton candy wigs.
But Galileo Figaro (Joseph Walker) is a maverick who wants to break free from this pastel pretty world. He’s a dreamer whose head is the repository of old song lyrics, long-forgotten rock choruses, a boy with music in his soul who moves like Mercury and rocks like Elvis (Austin Butler, eat your heart out!) And, great balls of fire, can this kid sing! Pair him with Scaramouche (Beth Fear) who belts out her dream of ‘Somebody to Love’ in her opening number with a voice that takes the audience’s breath away, and you are in for an electrifying combination. Every time these two duet, the roof is lifted off the Wroughton Theatre, Beth hitting notes that ought to be illegal, and Joseph matching her chord for chord, all whilst gyrating, hip-thrusting, sampling Beyonce, Britney, Bruno and Buddy in a dizzying musical repertoire that will leave you breathless. In fourteen years of reviewing KES shows, rarely has this reviewer been lost for superlatives, but this pair left me simply inarticulate with admiration!
But our plucky pair are up against mighty adversaries in the corset-wearing Killer Queen (Luiza Britton) and her purple-wigged assassin sidekick Khashoggi (Imogen Luker). The Queen resembles the Statue of Liberty, mixed with Kate Bush ‘Running up that Hill’, and a dash of Bellatrix Lestrange. A black widow, half human, half pixelated, her Majesty’s only Kryptonite is rock ‘n’ roll …. and her goal: the appropriation of the imagination of every human on the planet. But damn, this queen can sing! And move! And deliver a stinging put-down with glorious, glamorous panache. To be honest, by the time she’d torn up ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ everyone in the audience was kinda rooting for the Evil Diva!
And as for her hitwoman Khashoggi – think Lara Croft meets Gaga via Catwoman, then add a violently violet wig, black lippy and a Steam Punk vibe – and you’re still not even close to how awesome this gal rocks the stage. Imogen Luker is quite simply terrifyingly good as the Queen’s bit of rough, bringing a kind of magic to this show with a voice that was devilishly beautiful. And watch out when she and her army of lab-coat wearing, lightsaber wielding storm troopers go full Star Wars, turning ‘the force’ into torture weapons in some dazzling fight sequences. Cos it turns out baddies are kick-ass dancers too And, thanks to the incredible choreography from Victoria Stevens-Craig, Etta Bella and Dani Tamblyn, this whole show is full of dance numbers that look set to be the next Tik-Tok viral sensations!
But the baddies cannot be allowed to triumph. And luckily Britney Spears (Jacob Cooper) and Ozzie Osbourne (Neve Riley) are here to help our plucky heroes save the day. These loveable renegade rockabillies refuse to believe that music has died. They want it all, and they want it now - and trust me when I say they deliver it all - and more. Oz and Brit quickly have the audience whooping and stomping and rocking along to their beat. Ozzie gives Adele a run for her money - and I meant the real Adele, not the rehashed Bohemian version (though he is excellent too, Oscar Farrar!) Meanwhile, Brit is effortlessly cool and just a little bit Harry Styles (which is ALWAYS a compliment). Oh, and he does the whole thing on crutches! I mean – just … how? I’m not gonna lie, when Ms Spears meets ‘her’ end (no spoilers but it does involve a lot of lightsabers!) I let out a little cry, and I spent much of the second half pining for Britney and his sensational side-kick - cos I loved these two so much!
But I’m getting ahead of myself! Before their untimely demise, the plucky rebels lead Galileo and Scaramouche to the Bohemians, a counterculture tribe of rock ‘n’ roll radicals who form an underground musical resistance. These are anarchic pirates of the Radio GaGa world – though to be honest Buddy (Benjie Poole) and Holly (Bon Purcell) are more hippy than hip, adorably goofy and a little bit geeky, this pair are the high-priest and priestess of the ancient relics, archivists of the ancient texts: the obsolete objects such as video tapes and magazines that are the Rosetta Stones of rock ‘n’ roll. Did I mention they sing too? How many triple threats can one show have???
But to be honest, any musical that boasts a cast including Paul McCartney (Morven Boyd), Kate Bush (Cassie Milton), Ed Sheeran (India Andrew), Bruno Mars (Albie Beresford), Michael Jackson (Horry Foster), Adele (Oscar Farrar), Mick Jagger (Dotty Hodge) and Drake (Beth Ritchie) is sure to be a Top Ten hit. And when these Old Rockers dressed in denim and fishnets, all leather and tattoos and knuckle dusters sing ‘Only the Good Die Young’, it is like a showcase of KES vocal talent. Kate and Drake and Adele and Mick and co sing of the lost generation of pop and rock superstars with soul and beauty that were heart rending (no – you’re crying!)
But music is in peril - the Bohemians are betrayed, the Hard Rock Café raided, the rockers neck-shackled, their brains wiped of all musical memory … and yet it’s still not over. Not if our plucky pair have anything to do with it. The star shines in the East (Memphis), leading them to the home of the King (of rock ‘n’ roll) and they may have to ‘ride my bicycle’ to get there, but nothing’s gonna stand in their way. They clamber over the audience’s laps, run up and down the raked seating, discover the magical axe, uncover the secret held on the VHS tape and bring music back to life - with more than a little help from our incredible band. Have I mentioned the band? The heart and soul of this show? Headed up by incredible musical director Rupert Drury (and his show-stealing leather trousers!) our musical maestros might be kept behind bars but their talent cannot be chained down. They are quite simply sensational. No second-rate cover versions here, thanks to the incredible musical wizardry the show sounds like a Queen concert Live at the O2! Oh, and special mention must go to pupil guitarist Callum McGillivray who is the Brian May to Joseph Walker’s Freddie! Just – wow!
And so, by the power of three to five part harmony (hats off to this incredible cast for mastering the complexity of those Queen numbers!) the Killer Queen melts like the Wicked Witch of the West and after that – well it just all goes a bit wild! The audience were on their feet, they were stamping so hard I feared for the seating stand, they were dancing and singing, swaying and whistling and whooping and clapping. And it had all gone a bit Glasto/Reading/Boardies Mosh-pit on stage! But then just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, a question popped up on those multiple TV screens: ‘Who Wants Bohemian Rhapsody?’ And is there any point in even asking?
Now, I’m not ashamed to admit I got a bit ‘emosh’ at this point. It’s been a long old term, and a long few years – five years in fact since we last saw a musical in the Wroughton Theatre. Some of this young cast were poised to take the stage in ‘Billy Elliot’ in 2020 when Covid hit and robbed them of their moment in the spotlight. But, as Britney tells us, musical theatre never died – it was just asleep, and boy did it wake up with a vengeance!
And so, I want to thank the directors of this show, the indefatigable and inspirational Dani Tamblyn and Victoria Stevens Craig, along with wonderful assistant Jaye Williams and ‘The Magician of the Wroughton’, Technical and Set Manager James Sellick – for giving us - and the lucky cast - such a magical gift of a show this Christmas. A show that honours individuality, reminds our young people to stand up to brainwashing and be themselves, to sing the song that is in their hearts – and to belt it out loud and proud! A show that I also guarantee will send you off singing into the night (and probably crooning into your hairbrush for days to come!) A show that rocked the house – and will rock your world, just as it rocked mine!
Review by Catherine Bruton, English and Drama Teacher
Flickr album: We Will Rock You
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