Elizabeth And Raleigh: Late But Live

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Following last year’s triumphant Johnson and Boswell, full of virulent anti-Scottish jibes and Knockabout stand-up, comes this rather disappointing sequel.

This time around, Miles Jupp, who plays the elegantly arrogant Sir Walter Raleigh, and Simon Munnery, the aging queen, seem afraid to let slip they are having fun. The direction is stiffly formal, the language imposingly Shakespearean, the musical accompaniment vividly atmospheric – but while ridiculous things do occur, no one lets their rigid facades slip, bottling up the humour.

We start in Elizabeth I’s boudoir, where Sir Walter Raleigh awaits the Monarch, hoping she will finally succumb to his amorous advances. He introduces himself with a few gags about his home town of Budleigh Salterton and a list of his titles, illustrated with slides which stretch a simple gag too far.

Things pick up with the arrival of Munnery’s majestic queen, face ash-white and an elaborately regal dress outdone only by his elaborately regal headgear. An all-powerful, infallible ruler is the perfect channel for Munnery’s domineering comedy, and a few of his excellent, stupidly xenophobic, lines from his Cluub Zarasthustra days are dusted down to make the point.

No one can tackle this period comically without reference to Blackadder, and Munnery’s Monarch makes Miranda Richardson’s petulant brat look positively sane. But once we settle into the dialogue between Queen and subject, that formality kicks in.

Writer Stewart Lee certainly has the pair doing stupid things, variously involving mashed potatoes, trampettes and one-galleon hats, but mostly Jupp and Munnery maintain their deadpan dignity and sense of gravitas. That feeing is reinforced by the overly-theatrical presentation in a swanky Edinburgh venue which even boasts a full-size organ, used to enhance the ambience.

But while the intention was to perform silly things with a po-face, hoping the juxtaposition is funny, this formal atmosphere effectively quashes the comedy, making the audience unsure where to laugh. A couple of very minor ad libs do get a reaction, because they crack the pomposity of the situation, rather than the scripted moments that seem afraid to. Looser performances and more playfulness is what’s needed here.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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