The Garrick Theatre’s current evening show is The Crown Jewels a true but little told tale of the conspiracy to steal the nation’s coronation regalia which, unbelievably was kept in an ordinary wooden cupboard presided over by a man in his late 70s showing them to visitors on request. Small wonder that Colonel Thomas Blood (real name) took advantage of the situation when he carried out the crime of the era though bungled the enterprise badly, was swiftly caught and only narrowly avoided extreme retribution.

I wish I could say the same as this is a production which largely gives comedy a bad name. Considering it was written by Simon Nye, the originator of one of the THE comedy classics Men Behaving Badly and directed by the usually sure footed Sean Foley, I found it woefully unfunny and largely a waste of the not inconsiderable talents on display. Indeed the most successful aspect of the evening was when Al Murray, playing the king, was permitted to go off text and improvise around some audience interaction. 

Murray’s stage presence and ability to be spontaneously sharp with his audience “victims” has been honed over many years and shows he is expert at what he does. However his characterisation of the monarch is all “borrowings”. His voice and laugh are pure Terry Thomas while his general demeanour is an aristocratic version of his own Pub Landlord. Murray also plays the ill fated jewel keeper Talbot Edwards – essentially a rougher version of the king but without the fancy curly wig. Mel Gierroyc also has moments of improvised inspiration as the black toothed Mrs Edwards setting up a merchandise stall selling pastry crowns. She also plays a French noblewoman though to what purpose – other than to give her a bit more to do – I cannot fathom.

Two other top comedy names, Neil Morrisey and Joe Thomas are woefully underused. The latter gives us his permanently bemused and put upon young man while the former seems all one note or to be fair two note – one for each of his characters. While I enjoyed the vocal prowess of Carrie Hope Fletcher her songs were not particularly memorable and seemed to be bolt ons designed to pad the show out to full length. I merely felt sorry for Aidan McArdle finding himself in such tosh – he’s played Richard III for the RSC for heaven’s sake. All he could do as Blood is scenery chew which, at least, was of a part with the general tenor of the show. The one bright spark amongst what is generally an unholy mess is Adonis Siddique who found a scene-stealing sense of understatement with his Head footman.

There are some pluses – Michael Taylor’s costumes look the business and ….. no sorry, that’s it. Charles II reigned for 25 ears – I’m afraid this historical “comedy” dud will be lucky to last 25 days. It’s no wonder that there’s a groundswell of opinion that the monarchy should be abolished. 

The Crown Jewels is playing at the Garrick Theatre. Tickets from £20: here.


Review: BottomLine          Photo: Hugo Glendinning