With tongue firmly in cheek “The royal event of the year” proclaimed the announcement material for The Crown Jewels, and while the first new monarch in seventy years probably disagreed, he at least didn’t have to delay any of his pomp and ceremony.
Simon Nye’s new play, however, did have to postpone its press night because, in the words of the producers, it wasn’t quite ready. But with a limited run it had to open eventually, and the result is a definite disappointment.
The whole caper is based on a true story. With the monarchy restored following Cromwell’s defeat, Charles II is celebrating his ten-year jubilee and plans to wear the Royal Regalia. But the Crown Jewels are merely stored in a cupboard and security is lax, so Colonel Blood (Aidan McArdle), his son, and Captain Perrot steal them, only to be almost immediately caught.
Directed by Sean Foley, the two hour running time (including interval) has about twenty minutes of story. The rest of this ‘heist’ is an excruciatingly unfunny exercise in making the audience feel slightly less resentful at having paid money for an experience akin to being tortured in the Tower of London.
Al Murray, who has top billing playing King Charles and Talbot Edwards, regales us with not one but two stand-up sets, laughing more at his own jokes than the audience are. Equally redundant are the songs, it’s not a musical but every ten minutes or so, the Lady of the Bedchamber/Elizabeth bursts into song. They serve to demonstrate Carrie Hope Fletcher’s remarkable vocal ability, but we knew about that already. Just as was the case with Cinderella, Fletcher’s ability hugely outshines the production itself.
Simon Nye was the creator of sitcom Men Behaving Badly, and with such pedigree comes a host of comedy stars appearing in The Crown Jewels, including Men Behaving Badly star, Neil Morrissey, but neither he, nor the likes of Mel Giedroyc, can salvage this royal fiasco.
Instead, it falls to lower billed members of the company to really shine. Joe Thomas is delightful as Tom Blood Jnr and the funniest moments of all come from the very talented Adonis Siddique as both Wythe Edwards and the King’s Footman.
There’s quite a lot of multi-rolling going on and despite some quite lavish costumes from Michael Taylor there’s not enough distinction to always be able to work out who’s playing who. At one point it seems that Jenny Blaine has some ruse to rescue the miscreants from their cell, then we realise halfway through the scene that Tanvi Virmani is now playing a jailer.
This real-life audacious heist story should have an abundance of comedy riches to exploit, but instead The Crown Jewels never manages to shimmer. The odd titter does not a comedy make, and it would be difficult to describe this play as an event of any kind, never mind a royal one.