The Crown Jewels at Garrick Theatre
If a riot is defined as a “violent disturbance of the peace”, then writer Simon Nye’s The Crown Jewels at the Garrick Theatre is indeed, as billed, a riotous new comedy. This loud, crude, disappointing production tests the audience’s patience while stealing their precious time.
When King Charles II (Al Murray swapping Pub Landlord for Merry Monarch) plans to celebrate a decade of his reign, the devious Colonel Blood (Aidan McArdle) plots to steal the crown jewels in an audacious caper. Attempting to humiliate the king in a politically motivated strike, Blood gathers together a crew of hapless recruits (Neil Morrissey, Joe Thomas and Dedun Omole) to embark on this historic heist. However, the bold robbery of the Stuart king’s imperial accoutrements from the Tower of London doesn’t quite go to plan…
Much like the BBC’S Blackadder, Nye’s Restoration-period parody tries to satirise past and present through this real 17th century misadventure. But, unlike that kingly sitcom, the result falls far, far short here. The script employs almost every comedic trick – from slapstick to double entendre to situational irony – in such a slapdash fashion that it almost seems to be a farce of a farce. Another culprit is Sean Foley’s direction, as witnessed in the cast’s mediocre performances. Morrissey breathily barks most of his lines, Omole’s jerking physicality is off-putting, and Thomas remains in his typical range from The Inbetweeners. Poor Carrie Hope Fletcher is stuck with musical theatre pastiche, though her magnificent voice is a salve for the ears.
The audience’s enthusiasm relies uneasily on Murray and, mostly, he is a real gem. While the comedian and Mel Giedroyc are stereotypical as two lower-class grotesques, he shines when playing the lewd, lascivious monarch. During the play’s first act, Charles’s state address rehearsal becomes a scene of barely disguised, bawdy stand up. Rescued from the arduous “plot”, we are gifted a few hilarious, if increasingly absurd, exchanges with the lecherous, xenophobic royal. Murray clearly enjoys this regal role, over-egging the upper-class accent and flamboyant mannerisms, and it ends up being the production’s crowning moment.
But when this skit is repeated in the second act, even Murray starts to grate. Ultimately, The Crown Jewels is a glorified faux panto: it neither delivers on satirical wit nor offers enough audience participation. Unlike Blood’s doomed attempt at a momentous act of theft, this comedy only succeeds in robbing the audience blind.
The Crown Jewels is at Garrick Theatre from 7th July until 16th September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.