August 01, 1996


The Queen and I
by Sue Townsend
adapted by Melissa Reeves
Her Majesty’s

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Take a script by Sue Townsend, already a success in the UK, add adaptations from Melissa Reeves, gather together a strong cast of Australian and English actors, have it directed by Max Stafford-Clark, toss in some songs by Ian Dury and you ought to have some sort of a hit. Alas, The Queen and I is a royal mess.

Sue Townsend, creator of Adrian Mole, the Holden Caulfield of the Welfare State, first published her Windsor dystopia in 1992. The Queen and I is based on the notion that instead of John Major a Republican government gets elected and the royal family is divested of all but its immediate raiment and sent to a housing estate in the Midlands. It is an idea that has occured to many a British citizen and several million more colonials but Townsend cleverly incorporates individual characterisations of the Mountbatten-Windsors– Elizabeth, Philip, Charles, Diana and family, Margaret, the Queen Mother, Harris the corgi- and despite using identikits from Today and New Idea creates a view of the royals that tempers satire with gentle comedy. They are exiled to Coronation Street, as it were, not Brixton or Bradford.

For this production the royals have been transported. For the Adelaide season that means to Salisbury North. But where there is an immediacy about a move from the two bar heaters of Buckingham Palace to Leicester, the shift to Australia is a fairly mangled premise- as much governed, it would seem, by Equity requirement as creative impulse. It is not helped by the odd lack of regional familiarity in Mark Thompson’s elaborate set -three intersectiong back porches in fibro and brick with industrial strength cyclone wire along the back. Silver Street has been graffiti-ed into Saliva St and we have a sense of hard times but nothing nearly vivid enough to galvanise local recognition.

The script seems like a frankenstein of skits and rewrites that, despite the commitment of the performers never provides enough continuity to run. With so many targets, in-jokes, plot complications and lumpy attempts at social comment the show veers wildly under the sheer weight of its objectives. The players double madly from royals to proles with farcical speed but such difficult logistics are not rewarded with anything but the next half idea and more scrappy writing. The songs, re-jigged for Australian conditions, collapse completely. Ian Dury is an untransferable Londoner and the music hall jauntiness of Mickey Gallagher’s tunes is completely out of whack, as the actors’ discomfort in performing them makes evident. I’m guessing that there were more than the three of four we got. With so few remaining it would be better to ditch them all.

The lack of coherent structure, the lacklustre Australian characterisations (with the exception of Fiona Press’s Coral McKenna and George Kapiniaris as Elephetheria Popoli, confidante to the Queen Mother) and the self-consciousness of the class themes (presumably, previously a strength in Townsend’s original) bring The Queen and I to its knees. Perhaps I should say ‘our knees’ but I can’t speak for her former highness. I was certainly praying for something better.

It remains a marvel that the show could be so much less than the sum of its parts. Especially because there are some very funny performances despite the shambles. Judi Farr is excellent as HRH (ret.) She sounds like her and maintains a stoic dignity essential to Townsend’s wry comedy. Ronald Falk is a creepy Philip, as Princess Margaret Fiona Press is hysterically deadpan and Samantha Packman, stepping in at short notice to take over the role of Diana, presents Her Royal Sulkiness with the right amount of petulance.

The English actors fare well. Robert Goodale is hilarious as the sympathetically-drawn Charles, Stephanie Fayerman revels as the Mother of all millinery and Pearce Quigley is droll as William the Delinquent. As is George Kapiniaris, reworking with relish some of his signatures from Wogs Out of Work. But individual business cannot rescue a botched idea. The Queen and I is full of wasted talent. For that we are sorry and for that we are not amused.

The Adelaide Review, August, 1996.

Coming Up in August

Until August 3 at The Promethean Theatre, Kate Roberts presents her one woman odyssey to the Top End in Suzanne Spunner’s Dragged Screaming to Paradise.

On August 8 newcomers Allsense Productions present Conjure Wife, an adaptation of a novel by Fritz Leiber. At the Odeon until 10 August.

Dead White Males, David Williamson’s swipe at academic PC, opens at Her Majesty’s on August 9. STC production directed by Wayne Harrison and featuring John Diedrich with Ron Graham, Barbara Stephens and Robert Alexander.

Tap Dogs. Designed and directed by Nigel Triffitt. After taking their own brand of testosterone tap to Edinburgh and the West End, Dein Perry and colleagues come stomping back for a national tour. At the Playhouse 7-17 August.

12- 17 August. Theatro Oneiron presents Cafe Cavafy a showcase of writings by the celebrated modernist Constantinos Cavafy. Devised and directed by Metaxas Mastrosavvas. Theatre 62.

24 August. The Torrents by Oriel Gray. State’s Australian Playhouse season. Directed by Marion Potts, designed by Mary Moore featuring John Adam, Paula Arundell, Edwin Hodgman, Geoff Revell, Don Barker. The Playhouse until 14 September.

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