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Victoria’s Knickers (Susan Elkin reviews)

Victoria’s Knickers
By Josh Azouz
society/company: National Youth Theatre of Great Britain
performance date: 01 Nov 2018
venue: Soho Theatre, London

If you want a show which showcases the many talents of your sixteen-strong ensemble in contrast to conventional or classic choices then Josh Azouz’s Victoria’s Knickers probably ticks the boxes. Sadly this self-conscious, self-indulgent piece doesn’t tick many of mine as an enjoyable 90 minutes of theatre – diligent laughter from supporters in the audience on press night, notwithstanding.

The story (such as it is) is based round the real life accounts of a serial intruder, a teenage boy, at Buckingham Palace in the first year or two of Victoria’s reign. Perhaps she and he became an item before she married Albert? It’s an entertaining enough idea but you can’t make convincing, sustained theatre predicated on nothing but incongruity and anachronism. Yes it’s quite fun to hear Alice Vilanculo using 21st Century street speak and addressing her mother as “Mum” while dressed as Queen Victoria – the first time. But an hour later the joke has long since palled as we flail about in a surreal world of rude, dancing servants, cock fighting, a chainsaw murder and suddenly, a wacky suggestion that the whole thing is a play within a play and that we’re really in the 21st Century but that’s not sustained.

And what about the songs composed by Chris Cookson with lyrics by Josh Azouz and devised by the company? In themselves they’re quite clever but they often feel gratuitous in a show which can’t seem to make up its mind what it’s trying to do. I liked the three onstage musicians (imported professionals), though, who flit about reappearing in different spots and making an intriguing sound on two violins and a cello.

Amidst all this jumble are, however, some highly accomplished well-directed performers whose ability shines through in spite of everything. Jamie Ankrah is outstanding as the intruder/boyfriend. He is very funny when he skips and jumps and does very expressive things with his face as well as having a really striking rich singing voice. He does his rap number splendidly too. Watch out for this one in the future. Vilanculo finds haughtiness, earthiness and assertiveness in Victoria and Simran Hunjun shines as her hysterical, controlling mother. Aidan Cheng is watchable as Victoria’s peculiar butcompelling servant too.

This is the second play in the 2018 National Youth Theatre’s West End Rep Season. Consensual last week [read here] was a hundred times better. I await Macbeth at the end of this month with open-minded interest.

 This review was first published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-National%20Youth%20Theatre%20of%20Great%20Britain%20(NYT)-Victoria%27s%20Knickers&reviewsID=3370
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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