I had expected to laugh at Royal Vauxhall. I knew it would be funny. And it was. How could it not be? After all, this is a musical based on a night so legendary it has passed into myth: the night when Kenny Everett and Freddie Mercury took a well-disguised Princess Diana out to the RVT for a night of fun. But I hadn’t expected it to tug on those heartstrings as much as it did – there’s more to this musical than you’d might expect.
The piece comes from the pen of Desmond O’Connor, who also plays Mercury in this updated version of the musical, which is on tour across the UK. And he’s certainly packed a lot in with plenty of humour between the three icons as they tease, mock and swap battle stories about which of the divas have it worse.
And there’s some cracking original songs in here too. Don’t Try to Fuck with Diana is a comedic gem, whereas What Would You Give to Be Me is a song that has a sting in its tail – you may want their glory and their fame, but would you want the darkness and the agony that each carries too?
And it’s this musical’s willingness to explore the sadness in these three lives as well as the silliness that pulls it up from the ordinary and expected For yes, there’s plenty of gags as we watch these three legends break out from hiding from the paps in Kenny Everett’s (Joe Morrow) basement (there’s only so many rounds of Trivial Pursuit the greats can amuse themselves with ) for a night out at the linchpin of London’s gay scene – the RVT – and an opportunity to be themselves away from the prying eyes and the expectations of the wider world who expect, even demand, for each of these to behave and conform to societal rules of behaviour – restrictive and prejudicial, as they are.)
But there are moments that really hit home too, for this show also explores the anguish for Mercury coming to terms with being HIV+, Everett’s battles with depression, addiction and self-loathing, and Diana’s (played with a terrific blend of tenderness and metal by Carrie Marx) terror at the life she has found herself stuck in.
There’s a wonderful sense of reckoning and awakening for each of the three, which gives a great arc to the musical. And it’s one – like all great musicals – that leaves you with the awareness that life is a fleeting opportunity you must grab with both hands.
Photos by Phil Harris.