Historical events make great musicals. Think Les Mis, Evita or Jesus Christ Superstar. Indeed, Sir Tim Rice once said the key to a great musical is a great story and you would have thought the 16th century naval war between England and Spain would be fertile ground for such a tale. Unfortunately Ron Winlow’s fails to hit target.
The spat between England and Spain back in 1588 is etched into the consciousness of the English, not least because they prevailed (always a good reason to remember things). Scotland also has more than a passing interest since the whole thing kicked off partly because Elizabeth I had executed her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, much to the disapproval of Philip II of Spain who had previously been angling to have Catholic Mary crowned Queen rather than Protestant Elizabeth. This is the raw material that has been spun out into some blockbusting Hollywood epics over the years, so it’s a pity this musical version barely limps out of port.
The plot quickly gets convoluted, potentially because Winlow is grappling with a huge amount of history whilst trying to spin a love story into it. There was something about a locket that had to be retrieved from a ship in order to prevent the Spanish gaining authority from the Dutch to attack the English, but it started to get a bit sci-fi with the introduction of magical sleeping draughts and most of the entertainment is to be found in comically drawn-on sideburns.
The acting sadly oscillates between unemotional recital to over-thought mania. Queen Elizabeth herself was neither regal nor powerful and her odd switches of tone made her come across as severely bipolar.
The script appears to suffer from historical conjecture and populist images of Elizabeth I. ‘I'm married to my country. I have forsaken love for England,’ she declares to the court. This is not aided by the interjection of songs at odd moments which add nothing to the denouement. The musical accompaniment, disappointingly a recorded soundtrack, sounded like it had been ripped straight from World of Warcraft. But it’s not all bad; the cast’s vocal ability shows promise. Queen Elizabeth had a lovely, heady church chorister tone that wouldn’t be amiss on Songs Of Praise and Francis Drake had a beautiful voice, ultimately delivering the best performance of the night. Yet Thomas, the 'romantic lead', was irritatingly below pitch for the entirety.
The small audience it attracted, it couldn't keep - and I pitied the poor children held captive by oblivious parents. When it ended with Queen Elizabeth’s famous ‘Heart of a King’ speech, I cheered: mostly because it was over.