‘We Will Rock You’ was electric.
With fist pumps in the air, the sound of the guitar filling the room, and audible excitement from the audience, ‘We Will Rock You’ has engulfed the Empire Theatre stage. Aesthetics, energy and downright fun all combined to make this show a distinctive and celebratory rendition of one of the longest-running musicals in West End history.
In a post-apocalyptic, anti-music fascist society, a group of rebels attempt to take down the system and change the auditory landscape of the world. Set to the backdrop of some of Queen’s greatest hits, ‘We Will Rock You’ is not a musical for traditional theatre lovers. Critically panned, and one of many mass-produced jukebox musicals, the plot of this show is like a Happy Meal, audiences lap it up regardless of the quality.
World-class set design and construction greeted audiences and became the triumphant feature of the production – a huge kudos to Rob Darvall as Head of Construction and Craig Wilkinson as Video Designer. In collaboration with Sound Designer Steve Alexander and Lighting Designer Ben Hunt, the set morphed between places and created a dynamic, living environment. The use of two major and several minor LCD screens provided a range of digital moving backdrops, and large-wheeled staircases were utilised to create levels and depth. Audio-visuals included the use of text for storytelling and a collection of quality stock footage mixed with animation, which emphasised the atmosphere of a technological dystopia.
Standout moments in the tech components included the use of a moving headlight to create a digital holding cell, and the semi-robotic motorcycle that transported the leads to Wembley Stadium.
Costuming by Debra Nairn included nurse-like and cheerleader-like outfits for the conformist Gagas, and an eclectic mix of attire for the Bohemians; including elements of punk, steam-punk, hippy, hardcore and general rock wear.
Direction and choreography came from artistic powerhouse couple Wayne Scott Kermond and Katie Kermond respectively. They utilised a range of levels and depth within the staging and considered use of space and traffic flow so that scenes avoided unnecessary repetition. This ensured the ensemble members had a sense of purpose by way of props and supporting action.
Music Direction by the ever-talented Craig Renshaw was unmistakable and flawless. The seven-piece band was cohesive and a highlight of the production. Special mention must be made about the solo moment on the electric guitar by local legend Dale Robbins – outstanding as always.
In the titular role of Galileo, Bryn Jenke was a triple-threat superstar. With the looks, the moves and the vocal chops to suit, Jenke was a force to be reckoned with. Showcasing his talent, as one of South Queensland’s most outstanding male tenors, his falsetto, vibrato and range were stunning. He was magnetic.
Kate Hudson-James as Scaramouche matched Jenke in vocal stamina, belting out unforgettable renditions of ‘I Want to Breakfree’ and ‘Somebody to Love’. Similarly, her choices in body movement and walk were strategic and well-maintained; she opted for a heavy-footed punk-style walk, using it to sink skillfully into her songs and dialogue.
While Hudson-James and Jenke led the show with competence and zest, in many ways the standout performance came from Justin Tamblyn in the role of Commander Khashoggi. With perfect comedic timing and impeccable vocal ability, Tamblyn owned the stage – particularly, in his solo parts for ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’.
Georgia Spark as Killer Queen presented strong physicalities, emphasising her sexuality and power. Comedic duo Lauren Baryla and Jacob Krog, as Oz and Brit respectively, had some beautifully acted moments with the most consistent accents of the show. They provided some entertaining tongue-in-cheek comedy alongside Tristan James as Buddy.
As a whole, the ensemble was generally cohesive and energetic. Brock Alexander and William Thomas were standouts among the company, with every movement and choice electrifying, committed and sustained. Each of the various roles these two portrayed was believable and captivating, but not distracting. It will be exciting to see what they do next.
At times, some cast members lacked diction and some vocals sounded strained. A little more warm-up time and fewer opening night nerves will iron this out as the run continues.
Look past the dreadful script, because this rendition of ‘We Will Rock You’ kicks a punch in every controllable element. With a top-notch set-lighting-sound environment, some of South Queensland’s most promising performers, an incredible band and creative team, audiences will be clapping and singing along well after the show bows out of town.
Publisher Note: The reviewer of this show has a personal connection with some of the cast members, so to avoid nepotism, some outstanding performances were not commented upon. Additional names of creatives have now been added in the post-edit.
Photography by Lucy RC Photography.