15th August, The Prince Of Wales Theatre, Piccadilly, London.
The Windsors surprised me when it debuted on tv, I was expecting a comedy that would tease rather than attack and expectations were low, but it didn’t hold back when mocking the Royal Family, the satire was often vicious, and mixed with a series of increasingly daft plotlines which were fully aware of just how silly they were it was a combination which worked beautifully. Or it did for the first two series at least, by the end of the third it felt like it was running out of steam, that the satire was increasingly blunted and the jokes a little repetitive.
Presumably this will be the final ever outing for the characters, not only because the third series finale felt that way what with the big speech Wills gave at the end, but also because very sadly co-writer George Jeffrie died in 2020, shortly after writing the first draft of the script with Bert Tyler-Moore. If so it’s a fairly decent ending for everyone involved too, this isn’t as good as the tv show was when it was at its very best but there’s a good deal to like about the stage show, including a number of jaunty songs which while not hilarious have a selection of lines which’ll make you grin at the very least.
The main plot revolves around Charles becoming King after the Queen steps down and Camilla organises it so that he also becomes a dictator and rules over the whole country. Meanwhile Harry and Wills are still fighting, and Kate and Megan aren’t exactly friends either, while Eugenie and Beatrice are doing their best to clear their father’s name and references are made to the current lawsuit as apparently the script is being tweaked and changed each time something newsworthy comes up about the family.
There’s a slight pantomime feel to certain parts, what with Matthew Cottle as Prince Edward coming out on to the stage a few times to get us to boo Camilla, and at one point shout “You’ve only got one O-level”, while he takes on a number of roles and gives a big theatrical wink each time he turns up. That’s no bad thing either though if anything it’s a shame the device wasn’t used a little more often, as it rarely takes advantage of the change from television to live theatre in the way it initially hints at doing.
The big disappointment however is how little Harry Enfield’s Charles has to do with the story, given that the advertising I’ve seen revolves around Enfield performing in the play and the fact that he’s the biggest name in the cast he has the least stage time of all of the main characters. When he does turn up he’s really fun too, delivering some of the best lines and some strong physical comedy as well, but it only serves to make me wish he was in it far, far more.
As with the tv show Camilla’s the main villain and Tracy-Ann Oberman (replacing Haydn Gwynne) is fairly great, she’s not quite up with Gwynne when it comes to delivering withering put downs but she camps it up and has fun with the role, and her solo song is the funniest of them all and Oberman has a great voice. Ciarán Owens as Wills and Kara Tointon as Kate are just as good as those they replaced, which is high praise indeed, while Tom-Durrant Pritchard, Matthew Cottle, Crystal Condie, Jenny Rainsford, Tim Wallers and Eliza Butterworth are on fine form as well, and the only new cast addition who is a little weak is Sophie-Louise Dann, playing Fergie as being far smarter than Katy Wix ever did and so she doesn’t feel like the character we saw on tv.
On the Prince Andrew front this is fairly vicious, and Tim Wallers perfectly captures his smug condescension, but while the main plot with Charles and Camilla versus the rest of the family moves along and ends satisfyingly, this subplot feels a bit like they couldn’t be arsed to end it properly, and this aspect of the production feels rather rushed. It’s a little frustrating as its responsible for some of the funniest lines, but perhaps as the production is being altered as it goes along this is something they might build upon.
If you’ve not seen the tv series I wouldn’t recommend it, there’s a number of jokes that only regular viewers will get, and even then given the cost of West End theatre unless you really enjoyed it I’d still question whether it’s worth attending. But fans should get a big kick out of seeing it transferred in to the West End, even despite the lack of Harry Enfield and the absence of some of the best characters like Princess Anne and Pippa. There’s still many a strong gag, the storyline is an engaging one, and it moves at a decent pace, and if it’s not an astonishingly hilarious romp it is a frequently funny one.
More info and tickets can be found here.