Nov 8th, 2023
Luke Evans and Penelope Wilton deliver immaculate performances in this Royal farce.
A delight for fans of the Crown, snake-hipped Luke Evans is at home as the fastidious yet fanciful William Tallon, Page of the Backstairs to the much missed Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother for the better part of 50 years.
Cast out to her dotage following the death of her husband and her daughter's ascension, life for Her Majesty at Clarence House is akin to a lavish snow globe, relating with her staff far more frequently than her busy family. Days of Leisure Centre openings followed by nights entertaining starry-eyed subjects repeat ad infinitum. Within this charmed world, Backstairs Billy presides as Ma'am's beloved left-hand man. In this capacity, we meet a man who is full of pride in himself, a theatrical gay man, for whom it is his life's joy to be The Queen's number one. The play begins with these two Queens rubbing along in a delightful, cocktail-soaked world eschewing the clamour of Thatcher's beastly government outside.
With early references to Noel Coward setting us up for a classic society comedy, this right Royal drawing room farce is broken up by the shadow of budget cuts to Her Maj's household allowance (delivered with great seriousness by Ian Drysdale as Ma'am's less-than-impressed palace enforcer, Sir John Kerr). Here follows an entertaining 70's sitcom, with 'classic' references to homosexuality in the vain of Are You Being Served? Et al. While there are plenty who would no doubt find it distasteful, Marcel Dos Santos succeeds in creating a kind of Coward by way of Faulty Towers vibe, delivering an entertaining night out at the theatre.
Unsurprisingly, Luke Evans' performance shines the brightest. Not even to be upstaged by a pair of real-life corgis, he imbues the titular Billy with verve and wit, dancing across the stage with no entendre left un-doubled. A magnetic presence, be he training up the new boy, trading blows with Kerr, or even sneaking a potential lover into the palace. He brings the character to life, introducing us to the real William Tallon in a style I'm sure the real live man would have loved.
Dos Santos adds moments of gravity to the overarching comedy, giving us glimmers into his past, highlighting his ambition to work for the Queen, and his pleasure at doing a great job, fleshing out his memory from Royal marginalia into a proper portrait.
Alongside safe pair of hands Penelope Wilton in fine form as HRH, a luxurious set, and a handful of great supporting turns, (again, live Corgis), the show might not be an innovation, but it's a decently hued piece of escapism that pays a waggish tribute to William Tallon and his long service.
View our show pages for more information about Backstairs Billy, Duke of Yorks Theatre.
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