There is no denying the writers’ talent; both Louis Pattison and Harry Style have created a highly enjoyable script and score rich in farcical humour and lighthearted silliness, but in a theatrical world so bent towards the revision, reclamation and reimagining of historical narratives (Hamilton, SiX and Something Rotten all being examples), their talents seemed to be misdirected, and one has to wonder why this particular subject matter was chosen in the first place.
Liz The Musical is a kaleidoscopic cacophony of historical caricature.
The writing was nebulous, overambitious and though at times very funny seemed, to me to be better suited to the pantomime genre than musical theatre. It was unclear as to what they were trying to do with it. If the aim was the lighthearted reimagining and fictionalisation of history— as in Blackadder — their use of the Spanish Armada as a through-line for their plot was far too complex for an hour-long show, and the style would be better suited to a reimagined fairytale or myth. If the aim was reimagined but accurate historical didacticism— such as in Horrible Histories — the show also fell short.
Despite frequent declarations of ‘Historical Accuracy!’ or ‘Artistic License!’, so much of the plot took huge liberties with the history without sufficient acknowledgement or signposting. A personal bugbear was the finale song which clearly took its inspiration from Elizabeth I’s 1559 Virgin Queen speech to parliament in which she famously declared herself ‘already bound unto an husband, which is the kingdom of England’, and yet, in Liz The Musical, this came after the English victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588, and without any reference to or acknowledgment of its inherent anachronism. Surely, if inspiration were to be taken from Elizabeth I’s speeches, the Golden Speech of 1601 would be the natural finale to the show.
The connection between Liz as singer and Elizabeth I as orator and writer could also have been developed more in general. This was almost realised in the Tilbury speech song, but was not committed to. Love songs to Dudley could have been based on Elizabeth’s poems such as ‘On Monsieur’s Departure’ and letters to King Philip of Spain could have been used as inspiration for songs between the two rulers leading up to and during the Armada.
Ultimately, it feels as though the writers did little more than cursory research in preparation for the show, and as a result missed out on a wealth of material that could have been developed and used to their own stylistic ends. Sadly, the show had the flavour of very good improv that had been written down, recast and tightly choreographed, but lacked definition and direction in its writing. Songs were immediately pleasing but forgettable. Temporal boundaries were crossed so flippantly and frequently that the comic potential in such decisions as having Philip whip out an iPhone whilst still in period dress was squashed. In any case, the writing needs cutting, refining and most importantly, it needs to decide what it wants to say.
Having said that, there was much to commend Liz as a show. Performances were strong throughout, and there was not a single weak link in the cast. Eilish Convery as the eponymous Liz shone in her role, her vocals dazzlingly clear and beautifully pitched. King Philip of Spain, the cartoonish villain whose clownish bigotry one can imagine missing its mark in the hands of a less confident performer, was excellently cast with Zac Harvey-Wright, and his unapologetic delivery of some of the cruder lines in the show was incredibly well-judged. Many of the more minor members Liz The Musical’s cast are also worthy of mention: Eloise Rust as Anne Boleyn and Lucy Murphy as a multi-roler both inducing spasms of laughter with the slightest cock of an eyebrow.
In many ways, Liz The Musical’s greatest asset was its energy. Even in such a limited venue and with such limited tech the cast and production team managed to create the perfect atmosphere of fun and joviality in the space. Not a beat was dropped and lines were delivered with punch and vigour. Liz The Musical is clearly a show with a lot of talent, both in its creative and onstage team. However, I feel this talent was misplaced in a historically-driven musical about Elizabeth I.