Queen Elizabeth II passed away just five months ago, so Frangipane Productions’ show has gone through initial idea, script, commissioning and rehearsals in under that time. It feels a very short turnaround for a show based about the monarch’s death. But I approached The Q with an open mind and hope. Especially as it was playing at the OSO Arts Centre, a lovely theatre in Barnes that’s making great steps to become another vital fringe venue.
Ruth (Madeleine Page) is a doctor worn down by life. Suspended after being caught in a compromising position with a patient, she finds herself getting to know elderly neighbour, Barry (Mansel David) who is also a patient. She’s recently had to tell him he only has months to live. Through this strange friendship she somehow finds herself in the queue to view the Queen’s coffin.
There is no doubt Gavin Fleming‘s script, as well as being an interesting concept, is very funny. There are laughs aplenty from the moment Ruth blurts out “cancer” as she enters the stage – not the most sympathetic way to break the news to Barry. If anything, there are too many gags, too scattergun. Much of their conversation gets lost, with no directorial allowance given for the laughter to die down before launching into the next gag.
But as funny as it may be, the first half seems filled with unnecessary scene setting. There’s a reason so much fringe theatre is only an hour long: it forces a tightness in script, dictating that every scene be vital and eliminating unnecessary filler. A show can develop into something longer once it has built a solid core. To go straight in with a two-half play very fresh off the page can, and here does, risk overstaying its welcome. There is ample scope to slash thirty minutes from The Q and it would become a much more succinct piece of theatre to build from.
The second half at least has slightly better focus, as Ruth and Barry (whose transformation is the real show stealer) join the queue with couple from hell Lillian (Ellana Gilbert) and Walter (Billy Gurney). Nice use of the space sees them leaving the stage and returning from another direction to give the feel of moving along the line. It’s then cleverly punctuated with BBC News clips from the event, showing the madness and Britishness of queueing for 14 hours!
The real saving grace is Page and David’s performances. Ruth and Barry’s relationship builds from patient/ doctor to confidants as they open up to each other. The pair play wonderfully off each other, with David especially turning in a star performance, which demands a distinct change in style between the two halves as he prepares himself for the queue. Unfortunately, the supporting characters don’t match up, thrown in without any great depth and once more giving a sense of filler.
It’s also quite hard to work out just what The Q wants to be or say to its audience? Again it’s that scattergun approach that lets it down, failing to give proper focus. Is this about accepting death, celebrating life, tolerance for people who are a little strange? Come the end, there is a feeling that as much as I’ve laughed at the absurdity of certain moments, overall it just offers very little else.
So back to asking is it too soon for a play about the Queen’s death? Not at all. But this is not that play. In attempting to be current and relevant, it feels rushed and under-developed. The Q has its fun moments, but it just doesn’t have enough depth to make it memorable. Having said all that though, perhaps it is worth checking out for Barry’s transformation alone?
Written by: Gavin Fleming
Produced by: Frangipane Productions
The Q plays at OSO Arts Centre until 28 January 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.