[A Royal Romp]
Have you ever wondered what goes on with the British royal family behind closed doors? What passion lies latent between Charles and his therapist? What do those D-list royals get up to when no one’s watching? And do they all love horses just a bit too much? Then get ready for the fast-paced, high-octane farce that is She’s Crowning: Rebirth.
This ‘rebirth’ is a tighter, updated version of the show director Rongopai Tickell and performers Murdoch Keane and Peter Burman debuted at Basement Theatre in 2022. They have made some wise decisions about which sections to cut or shorten to keep the piece moving and on-topic, while adding a few new scenes. The show was originally inspired by the hit Netflix series The Crown, but these new parts move it into a broader parody of the royal family as a public-facing entity.
Keane and Burman inhabit a wonderful variety of characters, from Philip to Camilla to Thatcher. They are mesmerising performers, with some spot-on impressions to boot. Burman’s stillness and statuesque presence is a perfect contrast to Keane’s chaotic, high-energy performance, and they are well-cast in the roles they each take on. The audience was hyped from the moment they stepped on stage.
Shan Yusan’s set has grown to meet the Q Loft space, with a large red archway supporting the sheet against which shadows play, as well as the streamered curtains through which the performers make their entrance. Its garish red colouring and clearly 2-dimensional frame suggest the faux grandiosity which underscores the piece (and, indeed, the idea of royalty itself).
Helen Todd’s lighting design is well-suited to the show’s hectic nature, quickly transporting us from fancy restaurants to witch’s lairs, and making a rave out of a horse race (chef’s kiss to that whole scene, really).
Those who have tuned out the monarchy’s many scandals or who have never watched The Crown might struggle to understand some of the references. However, Tickell and the performers generally provide enough context to let everyone in on the joke. Beyond that, Keane and Burman’s excellent character work is hilarious to watch in its own right.
Daddy issues abound in this delightfully queer and kinky show. Indeed, it brought to the fore the royals’ strange relationships and repressed sexualities even before Harry’s book and its now infamous Diana cream story. (Don’t worry though, Harry does make an appearance.) It points to the real absurdity of the royals – their lives, their celebrity, and our relationship to them, especially in a post-colonial nation.
This latter point is more touched on in the play rather than delved into. While they change wigs and costumes, Keane and Burman revert to their real selves and ask each other how they first came to be aware of the royal family. It’s a sort of deconstructed break from the otherwise heavily stylised piece. Although these scenes were a slight lull pace-wise, they brought into the room the idea of individual responses to the royals and emphasised the artifice of the whole play. In fact, I wish this aspect of the show had been fleshed out more, as these scenes felt a little tacked on – a way to kill time while the performers change costumes. It would be a shame if they had to sacrifice any of the farce, but perhaps a future (slightly longer) version of the show could dive deeper into these nuances.
There is also the elephant in the room of the queen’s death, which happened after the show’s original season. Though a younger Elizabeth features at the start, her death is notably absent from the piece until the very end, when Keane and Burman ask each other in hushed tones how they should deal with it. As befits the satirical tone, they proceed to carry her on stage in a body bag. I won’t spoil the fun of what happens next, but suffice to say this is not a show for anyone with any real reverence towards the queen.
However, this was another section that felt a little tacked on, and I wish they’d gone further with its darker aspects, perhaps leaning harder into the carnivalesque, the sense of sweet revenge that was only hinted at. Nevertheless, it was a fitting end to a play in which two queer performers lampoon the royal family; apart from a few moments, it was a slick and solid piece.
Whether you saw the original version or not, this is a funny, wild, scandalous romp of a show and a great night at the theatre. Wigs, costumes, phalluses, horses…What better way to kick off Auckland Pride 2023?
She’s Crowning: Rebirth plays Q Theatre Loft 2-4 Feburary 2023 as part of Auckland Pride.
This review is part of the Auckland Pride Review Project – a collaborative project between four local publications (The Pantograph Punch, Bad Apple Gay, Rat World and Theatre Scenes) to provide more critical discourse around queer theatre and performance work. We will be reviewing a range of shows throughout the month of Pride – so keep a look out and go support our local queer performers!