A self-professed ‘comic caper’ set in Charles II’s England, The Crown Jewels doesn’t pretend to compete with the dramatic heists of modern cinema that audiences have become so accustomed to. This is a far cry from Soderbergh’s stylish Oceans’ Eleven, or The Thomas Crown Affair (neither the 1968 nor 1999 version sadly).
The criminals in question are more hapless than expert, and though caper they do – there’s certainly lots of skipping about – the comedy is thin on the ground.
Quite unbelievably, the script was devised around a true historical event that most of us have never heard of. In 1671 Irish Parliamentarian – and general political agitator – Colonel Thomas Blood, with his son in tow, made a semi-successful attempt to steal the Crown jewels from the Tower of London, and damn near got away. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it.
Joe Thomas as Tom Blood Jnr, Neil Morrissey as Captain Perrot (Image: Hugo Glendenning)
Al Murray, Mel Giedroyc, Neil Morrissey, Joe Thomas, and Carrie Hope Fletcher fully commit to the energy and playfulness of The Crown Jewels, which loosely models itself on the Restoration comedies of the period.
Disappointingly, despite such an accomplished and experienced cast, and Fletcher’s diverting vocal talents, this remarkable true story just feels so… unremarkable.
The audience is served pointless interludes such as King Charles II chatting with an unknown French noblewoman about his sexual appetite; or said noblewoman flirting with audience members; and let’s not forget historically insignificant young girl sings a song about wanting a man.
Al Murray as Talbot Edwards (Image: Hugo Glendenning)
A plot against a sitting Monarch could feel grand and daring, or delightfully barmy. This production just feels like an odd collection of scenes with nothing in common but endless sexual suggestion.
Not enough time is spent with Colonel Blood and his co-conspirators, so it’s hard to accept why they would take such a risk at such a time.
Throwing around the name of Cromwell doesn’t really suffice for historical contextualisation and characterisation. If you’re a real fan of bawdy humour and audience interaction, then you’re better off going to the panto at Christmas.
The Crown Jewels plays at the Garrick Theatre from Friday 7 July – Saturday 16 September 2023
It then tours to The Lowry, Salford (Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 September), Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury (Monday 25 – Saturday 30 September), New Theatre, Cardiff (Monday 2 – Saturday 7 October 2023) and Milton Keynes Theatre (Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 October 2023).