The Queen’s Theatre was my first experience of the stage, regularly accompanying my family to the various pantomimes and children’s shows with a great deal of excitement each time I stepped through its doors. As a local landmark, it is incredibly dear to me and this is why in recent years I have felt increasingly conflicted about its artistic choices.
Built in a place of great cultural heritage and spawning a huge number of home-grown talents such as David Eldridge, it remains in the difficult position of straddling both choices that convey its artistic strength and, simultaneously, pull in the loyal crowds that keep it alive. And so while Eldridge’s fantastic In Basildon, a play that is essentially about the audience at the Queen’s, plays at the Royal Court in West London, the Queen’s must showcase crowd-pleasing productions in which its audience see what they want to see and not always what they, perhaps, should in order for this great theatre to survive.
They’re Playing Our Song immediately highlighted this dilemma. A musical comedy set in the 1970s, it tells the tale of a composer and a lyricist on the bumpy road to true love, and is based on the real life relationship of composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. With the garish lights and a live band in the corner, the set was akin to be that of a cheesy 1970s chat show, the perfect example of the way in which the Queen’s relies on the past to target its elder audience. The sight of it was enough; I wanted to hate it.
And yet what I learned as I looked around the packed auditorium is that not only are these kind of productions vital to the Queen’s survival, they are crafted with such skill that it is incredibly hard not to warm to them. Sarah Mahony and Dan de Cruz as the loved-up couple are utterly charming, completely capturing the bouncing energy of their witty exchanges and conveying a fantastic chemistry. They are ably supported by Greg Lusk and Barbara Hockaday performing the live musical accompaniment – it is a testament to all the performers that they carry the pace with ease despite their small numbers.
I arrived feeling conflicted about the upcoming performance but left feeling reassured that the Queen’s can hit the balance between audience numbers and integrity. With the help of a Neil Simon script, with a sharp wit that refuses to allow it to dissolve into sickly sweet fluff, They’re Playing Our Song feels like a girly night in and its quality ensures that there is no aftertaste of guilt to its simple pleasures.
They’re Playing Our Song is playing at the Queen’s Theatre until the 30 March 2013. For more information and tickets, please see the Queen’s Theatre’s website. Photo by Nobby Clark.