First Night: Royal Family's difficulties take a turn for the theatrical: The Queen and I, - The Vaudeville Theatre, London

THE Royal Family's troubles reached the West End stage last night as a production, publicly funded through the Arts Council, showed the family having to live on a council estate in a republican Britain.

The play, written by Sue Townsend, author of the Adrian Mole books, and directed by Max Stafford-Clark, former head of the Royal Court theatre, makes theatrical history by depicting several members of a living royal family. The Queen, the Queen Mother, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret are included, as are the Prince and Princess of Wales.

But it will be a test of how attitudes to the Royal Family have changed to see whether West End audiences tolerate what is often very crude humour at the royals' expense, and a plot which sees the Royal Family banished to a Leicester council estate.

Princess Margaret becomes a whisky-swilling fence for stolen goods, the Princess of Wales seduces the local social services officer, Prince Charles seduces a single mother, the Queen has to be taught how to boil an egg, Prince William joins a gang of vandals, and the Queen Mother visits the betting shop. It is only six years since the National Theatre made history by staging a respectful and witty Alan Bennett play which was the first to portray a living monarch. This first West End portrayal of so many of the Royal Family as the butts of heavy-handed humour shows how much further the theatre has felt able to go in just a few years, gambling on a parallel decline in the public's respect for the Royal Family.

The original production, from Stafford-Clark's company Out Of Joint, which has been touring before coming to the West End, has received pounds 80,000 of public money, its original producer Sonia Friedman confirmed last night.

She added that the odd equerry had been in to see previews, but no complaints had been received.

'The new climate towards the Royal Family will undoubtedly now be reflected in the theatre,' she said. 'But we were careful to be affectionate to the Queen and Queen Mother, who triumph in adversity. Otherwise I think there would be criticism.'

Leading article, page 17 (Photograph omitted)