The National Youth Theatre return for their annual rep season, and in this second production at the Soho Theatre, The Crown gets a run for its money with NYT alumnus Josh Azouz’s Victoria’s Knickers, a burlesque style interpretation of Queen Victoria’s early years directed by Ned Bennett.
Young Ed Jones keeps breaking in to Buckingham Palace to see the newly crowned Queen Victoria, his sisters want him to push their agenda of The People’s Charter, but Ed has more romantic reasons for his persistent breaking and entering. Palace security hire a specialist unit to try and dissuade the ‘Boy Jones’ with all sorts of unusual methods of torture. The whole thing would be unbelievable if it weren’t for the fact it’s based, partially, in truth.
Taking a leaf out of the book of Hamilton, and more recently Six, the historical elements of the plot are reimagined with a modern overlay. “No diggity” declares the young Queen Victoria when singing about her cousin, the dashing Prince Albert, while showing off her fluorescent yellow nail polish – a subtle hint that underneath the formal black dress is a young Queen ready to explore the world. All sorts of incongruous elements find their way in to the plot; a chainsaw and even a couple of Marvel characters, but each seems more hilarious than the last.
Victoria’s Knickers would be best described as a comedy play with music, the few songs that are incorporated work well, again they sound modern and fuse with the plot to help create the bigger picture. Some of the singing could use a little work, but with so many other aspects to enjoy, that’s quickly forgotten. Chris Cookson’s music, which contributes to more of the soundscape than just the songs, is gloriously euphoric, at times sounding more like an Ibiza chill-out album.
The cast do an exceptional job, Jamie Ankrah is splendidly charming as Ed allowing us to warm to the character immediately, while Alice Vilanculo clearly has a bright future ahead, the way she fully explores the role of Victoria is an absolute delight to watch. Given the highly comic undertones in Victoria’s Knickers, there is much audience appreciation for Simran Hunjun as the ever-leaping Duchess and Aidan Cheng who gives a flawless performance as Sasha.
The production qualities are undeniably high, don’t be fooled by the relatively bare set, because Jess Bernberg’s lighting design creates a whole world of Victorian London for us to delve in to. Beautifully staged, and with an excellent cast made up entirely of National Youth Theatre members, Victoria’s Knickers is a raucous royal farce, which will have you screaming with laughter and delight, but sympathetic to the real-life history from which it is born.