An acclaimed writer, a brilliant director, and an all-star cast – it should have been a work of art but The Crown Jewels is royally unfunny.
Based on Colonel Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels of England from the Tower of London in 1671, the play stars Great British comedy royalty: Al Murray as King Charles II (and Talbot Edwards, the old man who guards the Crown Jewels), Mel Giedroyc, Aidan McArdle, Neil Morrissey, and Joe Thomas, alongside Carrie Hope Fletcher – Queen of the West End (who we interviewed ahead of the regional premiere).
Quite the cast for a touring production but a great cast can only do so much with a mediocre script – and, sadly, this script is not deserving of such talent. For a comedy, the play is far from funny relying on shock humour and sexual innuendos to gain (awkward) laughter from the audience, including an incest joke. There are some sprinklings of great comedy but they are few and far between in this comedy of clichés.
The play is at its funniest when lead star Al Murray goes off-script. Early on, there is an improvisation scene in which he engages with the audience, tearing into a diverse array of people, who become the brunt of jokes throughout the play.
At one point, Murray addressed two children in the audience, who were in attendance with their mother. The older child was eleven. “12 long years you’ve lived in my memory,” said Murray, outrageously.
In the second act, he reveals that he is sweaty and remarks that the Royal Family today do not sweat. More outrageous humour of that sort and less penis jokes would greatly benefit this play.
Adonis Siddique shone throughout the play but especially during Murray’s improv scene. He only spoke when spoken to but had the funniest facial expressions throughout. At times, I found myself watching him, not Murray.
Tanvi Virmani delivers a good performance. I look forward to seeing her in something – anything – else.
Mel Giedroyc stole the show. She really made the most of what she was given. The scene in which she plays a French aristocrat, though adding nothing to the story, allows her to shine. At one point, she breaks out of character and tells us that they should have cast Sue Perkins (her former presenting partner).
Carrie Hope Fletcher was perhaps miscast in this role. She is a serious actor, and whilst she is capable of comedy, her style of acting does not vibe quite so well with the comedians. I was reminded of West End actors getting (mis)cast in pantomime. It’s great that she gets to sing, and the songs are decent.
A highlight of the play came towards the end of the first act: there is a huge 3D map of the Tower of London, and puppets of all of the characters run around it, with the actual actors popping up at the bottom, one by one. That was some damn good design.
The design, in general, deserves great praise. The set is wonderful, and there are some fantastic costumes.
The direction is great too but I don’t think anything can save this script – not even Carrie Hope Fletcher. Indeed, the youngsters who went especially to see Carrie Hope Fletcher were probably quite disappointed.
I appreciate that I was not the target audience. It is, presumably, targeted towards older White folk – but not even they seemed to find it that funny. There is potential but it’s going to require a lot of work – you might as well just write a new play.