From the parodic pen of Potted Potter co-creator Daniel Clarkson comes a new seventy-minute slice of pop-culture savvy reduced theatre. This newest target of his abbreviation may be less omnipresent than J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novels but is no less iconic, given that it takes as its subject the acclaimed Netflix series The Crown (2016–present), which is inspired by the life of the planet’s most famous royal family: The House of Windsor.
The show’s title, The Crown Dual, cleverly plays on the monarch’s ubiquitous ‘jewels’ through a cheeky homophone and accurately describes the production’s setup as a two-hander, with Rosie Holt appearing as Elizabeth I (and occasionally her sister Princes Margaret) and Brendan Murphy as everyone else. The relationship between Holt and Murphy is established at the beginning of the play when we are hilariously forced to stand for Her Majesty as the National Anthem blares out and Holt enters in full royal regalia.
“Simultaneously silly and intelligent”
Murphy (playing the role of her hapless agent Stan Diamond) then delightedly tells us that we were not in the presence of the Queen but, in fact, his client. Holt explains her failed audition for the actual role of Elizabeth in The Crown and Murphy confesses that he failed to send in her audition tape. Thus, the dynamic of confident, clever and arrogant lead and hopeless supporting character actor is established, in the time-honoured tradition of the National Theatre of Brent.
Moreover, the influence of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (who Clarkson notes as an inspiration) looms large through the balance of a clever, self-important actor and a dim-witted enthusiast who fails to match their colleague’s knowledge of the source material. Murphy, for instance, steals an audience member’s phone in the first scene to watch The Crown, discovers that Churchill is a Prime Minister (not a dog) and later recommends that ‘you might want to delete your search history’.
What ensues is nothing short of a multi-roling masterclass. There is a plethora of fantastic characters and vignettes scattered across the seventy-minute runtime (I could have taken at least two seasons’ worth) including Princess Margaret’s Bridget Jones-esque diary confessions and her forbidden love – the side-splitting Captain Peter Townsend – who bounds onstage; a hypermasculine, aviator shades wearing, leather jacket clad cad, half-Flashheart, half-Top Gun.
The Crown Dual also delivers an astute parody of the online streaming service itself, as Holt walks across the stage at one point holding a board which asks the audience if they wish to ‘continue watching’ the current programme, in the manner of the notifications that occasionally appear at the end of a Netflix episode and threaten to send the viewer into a spiral of self-loathing at the extent to which they have committed to binge-watching a series. Fortunately, on this occasion, an audience member in the front row obliges Holt’s pointed look and presses the board’s play button, prompting the show to continue: a truly inspired moment of parodic writing and physicality.
This is by no means the only moment of audience interaction. Holt and Murphy are in and out of the audience throughout the show and, in one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen onstage, enlist our assistance during Elizabeth’s coronation. Trumpets are blown, an impromptu Archbishop stands onstage and an audience member delivers an impassionate rant against the monarchy.
This is parody of the highest order, simultaneously silly and intelligent, and you must do your duty and catch it at your earliest convenience.
The Crown Dual will be running at Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Big Yin at 16:20 until 26th August.
Image: Geraint Lewis