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Review: The Crown Jewels at The Lowry is ‘a star powered marvel’

The Crown Jewels, set in the hedonistic reign of King Charles II, offers a rollicking historical comedy brought to life by a star-studded cast. While it may not be a history lesson, it's an uproarious night of entertainment.
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Set during the hedonistic reign of King Charles II, The Crown Jewels follows the man once nicknamed the ‘Father of all Treason’, Colonel Thomas Blood (Aidan McArdle) as he attempts to steal the crown jewels to dissolve the monarchy and restore the rights of Irish land owners. 

Comic legend Al Murray plays the role of King Charles II and patriotic pensioner Talbot Edwards, who is tasked with guarding the jewels themselves. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this show is seeing Al have the time of his life interacting with the crowd and embodying the ‘Merry monarch’ himself.

Although a couple of his jokes would have been best left in the past, he generated huge laughs and is a worthy frontman. 

National treasure Mel Giedroyc plays both Mrs Edwards, Talbot’s ever-enterprising wife and the scene-stealing French Noblewoman.

As usual, she is consistently hilarious, whether it be in her crowd work or the choices she makes on stage, Mel simply shines. 

Colonel Blood’s slightly bewildered son Tom Jnr, is played by Joe Thomas and while the character has his moments, I wish he had more to do within the show as his talents feel a little underused.

Carrie Hope Fletcher plays Elizabeth Edwards, a high-maintenance young woman who is fed up with living in the Tower of London and playing second fiddle to her soldier brother Wythe.

Carrie kicks off the show as her alternate role, Lady of the Bedchamber with a song praising King Charles II and his many virtues. 

Not quite a musical, The Crown Jewels features a few songs throughout (with lyrics by writer Steve Nye and composer Grant Olding) and while they are all beautifully performed, it’s not quite clear what purpose they serve other than showcasing Carrie’s considerable vocal talents. 

Overall, the female characters are quite archetypal. Elizabeth is the bratty daughter, whose sole wish is to have a husband but is deemed ‘too ugly’ to find one.

Jenny Blade (Tanvi Virmani) is an actress who holds delusions about her talent level. French Noblewoman (Mel Giedroyc) is simply, French. 

Although this kind of pigeonholing would have unfortunately been typical in 1671; today in 2023, I can’t help but wish they each had a little more depth.

Perhaps Elizabeth could have lamented what she wanted for herself beyond marriage, Jenny Blade could have the chance to truly showcase her skills and the character ‘Lady of the Bedchamber’ could have a first name.

The sets, designed by Michael Taylor, are unique and help to conjure the 1600s, from the depths of the Tower of London to the rolling hills of Ireland.

They move seamlessly around the stage without ruining the immersion of the audience and add so much to each scene. They are truly impressive in their intricacies and attention to detail. 

To the untrained eye, the costumes designed by Samantha Gray and Michael Taylor, seem period accurate and convey things about each character successfully- King Charles’ golden boots, wig and robe ensemble a particular highlight.

Because the plot is fairly simple, the pacing of The Crown Jewels is especially important.

Unfortunately, it is not quite perfect.

The show begins with little in the way of occasion or exposition, leaving one feeling dropped into this story without much time to get acclimated, yet the main crux of the plot is achieved before the interval. This leaves the second act feeling somewhat aimless as there is no real conflict to resolve. 

This didn’t deter the audience, however, who remained extremely appreciative and enthusiastic throughout.

Al Murray and Mel Giedroyc in particular generate rapturous applause and several laughing fits, whether they are reading their lines as written or trying their hardest not to break as crowd work goes awry.

The audience was on their feet as the cast took their final bows. 

On the whole, The Crown Jewels is a show that is held up by the skills of its star-powered cast. It’s clear they are all having a great time working together. This sense of joy is infectious and very enjoyable to behold. 

I’m not sure I’d recommend it to those looking to learn a significant amount about this particular period of history, but if you’re in search of a good laugh, this show is for you.

The Crown Jewels are showing at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd September. Tickets are available here

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