Preview: When in Rome…

THE TAB takes a behind the scenes look at the new musical comedy ahead of its opening night.

Augustus Comedy England Musical Preview Pye Rome Theatre

When in Rome…, 17th- 21st November, Queens College

Last night I was given an advanced preview of the new Week Six show at Queens ‘When in Rome…’. I’d like to say an exclusive preview but someone from TCS was there as well. I eyed her neat black pen and Moleskine notebook with envy as I scrawled notes onto my unbound sheaf of papers with a scratchy biro. There’s probably a metaphor for my reviews editorship in there somewhere.

Having a preview is a rather odd experience as, aside from the producers and so forth, you are in the only person in the audience. In a space as big as the Fitzpatrick Hall this is only made even more obvious. For this reason I’ve decided to leave a star rating aside, as it was impossible to judge what the end product will be like. It’s a commonly known fact that you enjoy comedy more when people around you are enjoying it, so the experience left me cold in many respects. The forced laughter from the directors didn’t really do much to combat this either, it only made me wonder how much amusement they could realistically be getting from gags they’d seen performed fifty times already. I imagine that in a mass of slightly merry theatre goers, however, I’d have had a pretty good time.

The play is a musical comedy set in ancient Rome but full of modern songs and references and with little regard for historical accuracy. They even make a quite good joke out of this fact, one slave lambasting another for being a Christian despite it being ‘twenty-nine fucking BC’. It roughly centres on the ascent of Augustus, beginning with a humorous song and dance routine of ‘It’s All About You’, changed to ‘It’s All About Me’ to describe his new Emperorship. On this point, the backing band were really fantastic and nailed almost every song they performed, particularly ‘I Want to Break Free’. The dance routines were on the whole surprisingly well choreographed, especially when the female chorus were predominant. I thought that many of the songs went on too long, however, and they really could have done abridged versions to save time. The fact that they didn’t meant that the play clocked in at over the two hour mark when its material really stretched to about half of this.

It all looked very impressive (although too much time was taken up changing scenes) and some of the performances were truly excellent. For example, Tom England and Tom Pye’s slave double act is simply a pleasure to watch. England’s Grumio gets more comic mileage out of the word ‘alright’ then most of the other cast’s performances put together. Pye’s Clemens was brilliantly mischievous yet vulnerable and both made brilliant use of their different physiques in their dance performances. Seeing Pye dry hump a table and England miming sweat dropping down his balls while dancing to Lil Jon’s ‘Low’ probably made me laugh harder than anything else in the whole play. As you can probably tell I wish it had just been about these two. As it stood, they crow-barred in a sentimental and unconvincing doomed romance as its main plot. I can only imagine this was done as they felt there would not be enough plot otherwise, but in my opinion it really derailed things. The only merit was it resulted in a gloriously low key finale, with a rendition of ‘Stand by Me’ in black suits with the famous bass line initially sung by the chorus.

With the right crowd in you’ll probably have a really good time watching ‘When in Rome…’. When it’s funny it’s funny and it’s worth watching for the two Toms alone. Equally, however, there are often long gaps between the jokes and the attempts at seriousness really fall flat. With a group of friends and a few bottles of wine being passed round though you probably won’t mind too much, or you’ll be too busy singing along to the Spice Girls to care.