Review: We Will Rock You (Touring)

Monday 11th November 2019 at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds.


We Will Rock You celebrates the legendary music of Queen with maximum volume and plenty of energy – by the end of the show the audience are lapping it up with roars and footstomps. Set in a futuristic dystopian world in which original music is a crime and life online compulsory, a group of misfits with music in their veins worship the relics of times gone which they’ve looted from the abandoned outskirts of the iPlanet. Piecing together fragments of a past centred on the glory of Rock and Roll, the show touches on a range of accessible themes along the lines of friendship, otherness, love and self-belief, all while playing for laughs and blowing the roof sky high with the superb work of powerful vocalists.

Director Cornelius Baltus crafts the piece as a quirky cult classic. Performances of scenes are as loud and dramatic as the songs preceding and proceding – it’s big, bigger or go home. Lajos Túri Péter’s choreography is a consistent high-octane high point. The ensemble are impressively precise and Péter’s visuals are suitably striking against the backdrops of a cyber-crazed world or an ostracised den. Costume and wig designs from Kentaur centre on the ‘otherness’ of our rebels, combining various rock looks to create a mish mash of oddballs trying to live the dream.

The early iPlanet scenes don’t hold much charm in truth, but the introduction to the underground home of rebel group The Bohemians makes all the difference. Michael McKell dominates the scenes and he’s comic gold as the classic jester type. Buddy has a lot to say and not much of it is grounded in real knowledge. McKell’s comedy is as much about physical clowning as it is playful delivery and sidelong glances – this show would find itself worse for wear without him.

We’re never more than a mini-scene away from the next hit. Ben Elton’s book does well to offer up a good number of the songs as credible to the scenes they punctuate. The BIG hits get BIG voices on side and the auditorium reverberates with the wall of sound created by the vocal talents of the cast, brilliantly given high drama through Rob Sinclair and Douglas Green’s rock concert lighting. Huge shout out must go to the band too – Musical Director/Piano: Bob Broad, Music Associate: Zachary Flis, Guitar: James Barber, Simon Croft, Bass Guitar: Neil Murray and Drums: Dave Cottrell.

And what a cast! So many belters. Ian McIntosh is bloody brilliant. Powerful vocals, star quality and moves to prove his status as heartthrob all present and correct. He also boasts some great comic flair with his ingenious takes on pop song lyrics delivered in the abstract – no tune or tone indicator attached, just hilarious reciting of lyrics without awareness of meaning. Perhaps most striking of all is that in intonation, pitch and flair, it’s impossible not to find an impressive likeness to Mercury. And most skilful is the way in which he does justice to both his own vocal talents and those of his muse.

McIntosh is well paired with Anna Davey, the independent rebel chick Scaramouche. She’s a ball-buster of the Me Too era and wears a suit of armour over her vulnerabilities, using cutting remarks and comic sarcasm to deflect anything remotely personal…until of course Galileo works his rock star magic. *Swoon* goes she, before joining the ranks of belters Emily Olive Boyd is a fabulous Killer Queen – equal parts venomous relish and explosive vocal force. Adam Strong’s vocal strengths could stop an eighteen wheeler and when Boyd joins for a Killer Queen – Khashoggi duet, it’s a wonder the bulbs don’t blow. David Michael Johnson and Amy Di Bartolomeo are also a great duo, giving some fantastic performances as quirky rebel couple Brit and Oz. Bartolomeo is a particularly impressive vocalist and her numbers are without doubt highlights.

While the West End carnation of We Will Rock You featured a variety of staging contraptions, this touring show streamlines to play out the whole story on what is usually a blank stage with platforms onto which whole worlds and experiences are projected in kaleidoscopic colours. Video designers and animators offer a constant stream of bold sequences of moving backdrops (Henrique Ghersi, Sam Munnings, Chris Cousins, Kooch Chung, Gareth Blayney, Ben Adam-Harris, Susan Yamamoto – it takes a village!). Set pieces? A thing of the past dear friends! This is the future, and the future is all fantasy and illusion ‘caught in a landslide’…

Admittedly, the opening scenes are a far cry from the heights the show reaches by closing. Sit tight though and you’ll soon find yourself on a lively joy ride through the hits of one of the greatest bands ever to grace the airwaves, complete with some thoroughly brilliant vocalists to deliver them. With the arrival of the Bohemians and their nets, chains and whacky hair, the show steps it up considerably – the audience is always a good barometer and while responses were slow to begin, by the end, Leeds was hooting and hollering for more having had a damn good time. Let’s hope that the glorious Grand can withstand the thunderous collective thump thump claps from now until the show’s departure!

We Will Rock You plays Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until November 23rd 2019 and you can find tickets here.

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