A cheeky trip down memory lane
Having established himself as a popular cabaret compere, Des O'Connor's recent work reveals both ambition and a flair for musical comedy. The Royal Vauxhall picks up on a legend of South London: in the late 1980s, Freddie Mercury, Lady Diana Spencer and Kenny Everett spent an incognito evening at the famous Vauxhall Tavern. With Sarah Louise-Young (Cabaret Whore) and Matthew Jones (from Frisky and Mannish) as Diana and Kenny, with Tom Giles as Freddie, O'Connor spins a mischievous version of events that is shot through with melancholy for a time now past.
The RVT is itself an icon of queer London – a few songs are dedicated to its hedonistic atmosphere and lively celebration of sexual freedom, but O'Connor lends the famous trio a humanity that belies their celebrity. The musical numbers are appropriately cheeky – 'Making a Man of Diana' is frisky cross-dressing fun – but the plot addresses the anxiety and paranoia that marked Everett's final years and Mercury's confrontation with his own mortality.
The plot suggests that this night out provided Diana with the self-knowledge that led to her reinvention, and the serious themes of trust and public scrutiny darken the playful atmosphere. The backing tracks are a little muddled at time, not doing justice to O'Connor's pastiches of familiar hits and original compositions, but the strong ensemble performances and irreverent gaiety ensure that the humour and the undercurrent of social commentary on a time both more intimidating and rebellious are expertly balanced.
Underbelly Quad, run ended (now touring).