What a fun monarch Al Murray would be!
“All I want is a bedroom that isn’t an ex-dungeon! “
If you are looking for a serious historical comedy, The Crown Jewels is not it. It struck me more as a pantomime piece for adults but without the excessive filth. However Sean Foley’s production has several elements which make it enjoyable.
Playing both the King’s whore and the unmarried daughter of the Keeper of the Royal Regalia at the Tower of London, is the super voiced Carrie Hope Fletcher who has several memorable songs. The other star is Al Murray whose ad libs with the audience, which could be scripted, cannot fail to make all but the most curmudgeonly laugh.
Al Murray doubles as both the Merrie Monarch Charles II with a gorgeous periwig, and without, as Talbot Edwards the Keeper of the royal jewelled paraphernalia. The story such as it is, is loosely based on Colonel Blood (the diminutive but bombastic Aidan McArdle)’s theft of the King’s crown, orb and sceptre. This daring plot was schemed up by Irishman Blood, his son Tom Blood (Joe Thomas) and an associate Captain Perrot (Neil Morrissey). Captain Perrot conceals weapons in his voluminous breeches. Mel Giedroyc is both Mrs Edwards and an unnamed French noblewoman who dallies with the front row of the stalls audience.
Tourists were allowed to visit the Crown Jewels. Blood’s plot involved him dressing as a clergyman and visiting the Tower with his supposed wife, the actress Jenny Blaine (Dedun Amole) who would feign an illness and gain access to the living quarters to case the joint. Blood tried to tell the Edwardses that his fictitious nephew was a candidate to marry Elizabeth. Blood and his two accomplices came back on another night and succeeded in overpowering the 77 year old keeper Talbot Edwards and escaped with three items of regalia. Blood was caught and the outcome to his tale is far too intriguing for me to disclose here so pay attention to the play!
The star of this comedy is Charles II breaking the fourth wall to engage in delightful riffs with members of the audience. The play is set at the time of the Anglo-Dutch wars and the audience is encouraged to show derision for the Dutch. An unsuspecting couple caught in a box are grilled for our amusement or were they plants? Al Murray’s role is more akin to his stand up routine than Restoration Comedy but what does it matter if it makes us laugh and we did laugh. Mel Giedroyc too gets her turn with the audience with some cheeky French innuendo.
The sets and costumes by Michael Taylor are fringed festooned hangings and sumptuous brocades for the royal court, although I think I detected a William Morris print on the King’s dressing gown, but not in Arts and Crafts homespun but in silk! The King’s mini-skirted night gown exposed his bare knees and legs but his gold wing tongued boots, worn in bed of course, had red heels à la Christian Louboutin.
Of course I recognised as the backdrop to the palace scenes a painting from Sir James Thornhill’s Greenwich Painted Hall but with Charles II painted in. The set too which sees the conspirators in prison is impressive as all three get tangled in and by their leg and arm chains. The greenery of County Kildare is a brilliant and pretty bucolic setting.
I liked too the boots on the conspirators which could have reached up to cover their thighs but with enormous turnovers down to their ankles which looked quite comic and ungainly. The courtiers in black and white have these splendid Carolinian wigs and charmingly help change the scenes while preening, posing and smiling. What a handsome era the 1670s were! There is a clever chase on a 3D map of the Tower, with miniature figures slotting into the pathways as they are pursued.
Neil Morrissey comes into his own as a courtier and manages to make Al Murray corpse! I think the cast might have been having as much fun as I did.
The Crown Jewels
Written by Simon Nye
Directed by Sean Foley
Carrie Hope Fletcher
Director: Sean Foley
Designer: Michael Taylor
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer: Andy Graham
Composer: Grant Olding
Running Time: Two hours 05 minutes with an interval
Booking to 16th September 2023
2 Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0HH
Phone: 0330 333 4811
Rail/Tube: Charing Cross
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Garrick Theatre, on 1st August 2023