Ever since Tom Lehrer quit the satire business, claiming that Henry Kissinger's Nobel Peace Prize had rendered the job redundant, satirists have been struggling to keep up with reality.
In the last decade or so our own Royal Family has done a particularly fine job of staying ahead of the game, what with Squidgygate, Camillagate, Tampax-based fantasies, and the Duke of Edinburgh's habit of letting slip racial jokes that would have sounded old-fashioned 30 years ago. The bar has been set pretty high for any satirist wanting to have a go at the Windsors: how can you come up with something even half as outrageous and funny as the real thing?
Perhaps a despairing realisation of the difficulty hit Toby Young and Lloyd Evans at some point in the process of writing A Right Royal Farce: at any rate, that is the most sympathetic explanation I can come up with for the extraordinary feebleness of this comedy.
The play is set during the immediate aftermath of the death of the Queen: Charles and Camilla are preparing, a little too enthusiastically, for their coronation; Prince William, drunk and depressed, is prone to moping over one of his mother's condolences books, and singing "Goodbye, England's Rose" under his breath. And Prince Harry, in concert with James Hewitt, is hatching "Operation Cuckoo's Nest" - a conspiracy to have William committed to a mental hospital and persuade Charles to abdicate in favour of his younger son.
As a set-up, this is moderately promising; and for the first few minutes, an audience eager to be entertained giggled a lot. But the subsequent working out of the plot wastes any opportunity, with uninventive and clumsily choreographed farce, weak jokes, and caricatures that bear little or no resemblance to their originals. And as Monday's opening night wore on, the laughter became more and more sporadic.
Harry's plot involves his new Australian girlfriend, Anoushka, appearing to William in the guise of the late Princess Diana, and warning him that Camilla is having an affair with Prince Philip; later, Harry arranges for William to see Anoushka coming out of Philip's bedroom, this time in jodhpurs as Camilla.
For reasons that have nothing to do with internal logic and everything to do with extracting cheap laughs from erections, Harry then feeds Philip Viagra. Philip subjects Anoushka to what is best described as a comedy rape (the fact that Young and Evans use the verb "ravish" suggests that they had some inkling that this might not quite fit under the rubric of "hilarious bad taste").
There are misunderstandings and some scenes involving running around and slamming doors, but the play bears the same resemblance to a proper trouser-ripping farce that David Cameron's bicycling photo-opportunities bear to an environmentally friendly energy policy.
The plot, meandering dully on to its nonsensical yet unsurprising end, would matter less if the jokes were better; but they alternate between the bleeding obvious and the slightly baffling. Charles, of course, talks to his plants; Camilla is ugly and desperate for sex; Philip shouts "Cannibals" and "Bongo Bongo Land" at foreigners; the Archbishop of Canterbury is practically an atheist; and William's psychiatrist is hilariously named Dr Pumpernickel. In a less meat-and-potatoes context, the presentation of Harry as a Machiavellian schemer might seem like a brilliant stroke of irony: as it is, it just seems off-key.
Alan Cohen's production fails to add pace; the acting is by and large village-hall Christmas panto standard, though it is hard to see what they could achieve with this material. As it is, Andrew C Wadsworth's wide-eyed, strangulated Charles, and Tim Wallers' seedy James Hewitt hint at the possibility of something better.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here: that iconoclasm is much harder work than you might imagine. But I'm struggling to extract something from this waste of an evening.
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