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'The Crown Jewels' - a royally commanding performance

A star-studded cast of British comedy favourites brings comic caper The Crown Jewels to Cardiff this week, and we were at the New Theatre for press night last night (Wednesday 4 October).

Al Murray is a commanding presence in his theatrical debut in dual roles as lecherous King Charles II - a hilarious performance with nods to Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips - and as Keeper of the Jewels, Talbot Edwards - in more familiar Al Murray style.

As befits a king, he dominates the stage, and is ably supported by other big TV names, Mel Giedroyc (The Great British Bake Off ) and Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners), as well as West End star Carrie Hope Fletcher, Aidan McArdle, Tanvi Virmani and Adonis Siddique. Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Badly, Line of Duty) is usually in the cast too, but was replaced by Ryan Lane last night.

The Crown Jewels is a new comedy by acclaimed TV writer, Simon Nye, based on the true story of the self-styled Colonel Blood's bid to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671.

It's often like an adult version of Horrible Histories, which is no bad thing. And although I say 'adult', it's actually very childish (which again is no bad thing).

The humour is quite hit and miss - some of it falls flat, or may have been missed altogether (Blood and his consiparators at times spoke too loudly and quickly for my old ears).

But there are more hits than misses, and Al Murray's King Charles interacting with the common folk of the audience (people in the stalls, be prepared!) was priceless - testament to his stand-up comedy skills, developed over many years.

Carrie Hope Fisher performs the songs superbly, but they add little - either to the story or the humour. And the proven comedy talents of Joe Thomas also seem somewhat wasted in a minor role.

However, these are quibbles. This isn't Simon Nye's greatest work as a writer (his TV credits include Men Behaving Badly, Just William, The Durrells, Doctor Who, and Is It Legal?), but the performances - Al Murray's and Mel Geidroyc's especially - more than make up for it.

Director Sean Foley drives the action along, and the clever rotating set and spectacular costumes, both by designer Michael Taylor, play a vital role too.

The Crown Jewels delivers a night of history, humour, and (deliberate) hamminess, wih a royally commanding performance from Al Murray.

It plays at the New Theatre until Saturday (7 October). Tickets are available from the box office on 0343 310 0041 or online here.

Review by Andy Weltch

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