If you like your humour subtle, this is certainly not the play for you. From the title to the innuendo-laden script and the phallic props, The Crown Jewels – currently at the New Theatre, Cardiff – is full of schoolboy smut, slapstick silliness and pantomime-style improvisation.
Simon Nye’s play is based on the audacious yet little-known plot by ‘the father of all treason’, Colonel Thomas Blood – played here by Aidan McArdle – to steal the Crown Jewels and Coronation regalia in 1671, just ahead of King Charles II’s 10-year Jubilee. Blood, a thorn in the side of the English monarchy due to his anti-establishment views and Irish patriotism, was apprehended just outside the Tower Walls with his henchmen Captain Perrot (played this evening by Ryan Lane) and Tom Blood Jnr (played, in very ‘Simon’ style, by The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas). Bizarrely, not only were the feckless trio pardoned by the Merry Monarch, but Blood Snr was given land in Ireland worth £500, and served the rest of his days as a spy for Charles II.
Al Murray’s depiction of the shameless, hedonistic King is the highlight of this piece. His foppish, flamboyant posturing and absurd attempts at received pronunciation certainly had some of the audience roaring with laughter. Resplendent in his ridiculously lustrous wig and pompously decadent robes, he roams the stage tyrannically, roaring at his hapless footman Adonis Siddique – whose hilarious facial expressions and fawningly desperate attempts to please his master are a comedic triumph.
As expected, Murray uses his standup credentials to great effect in his impromptu interactions with the audience, and his Pub Landlord persona is resurrected in his second role as Talbot Edwards – the keeper of the Crown Jewels and patriarch of the Edwards clan. Mel Giedroyc, also playing two roles, is a delight: a noblewoman speaking in flawless French, albeit with a very funny hammed-up accent, and Talbot’s sex-obsessed wife who cooks bread shaped as the euphemistic crown jewels.
Indeed, some of the funniest moments of the play come in the improvised banter between Murray, Giedroyc and the audience – a comedic partnership which delights those in attendance. Moreover, although not a musical, Carrie Hope-Fletcher’s gorgeous vocals are a welcome interlude in the rather shouty and manic performance. Finally, the set design is a triumph: thanks to revolving door sets, we are treated to depictions of the Royal Palace, a rundown inn where the heist is conceived, the Tower Of London and an Irish estate. There’s also a hilarious interactive map of the Tower, in which miniature characters chase each other around.
A bawdy and exuberant retelling of a little-known historical tale, The Crown Jewels is one not to be missed.
The Crown Jewels, New Theatre, Cardiff, Wed 4 Oct
On until Sat 7 Oct. Tickets: £25-£49. Info: here
words SARAH EDWARDS