Royal Vauxhall is the brilliant musical that tells the story of the semi-legendary night that Queen’s Freddie Mercury and radio DJ and TV star Kenny Everett took Princess Diana in disguise for a night of dancing at the RVT. It was premiered at the RVT and is back for a run of six shows. Dave Cross spoke to the writer Desmond O’Connor about this timely revival.
Hi Desmond, what’s the basic premise of Royal Vauxhall?
Royal Vauxhall tells the story of the night Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett took Princess Diana in disguise (in drag) to the RVT. On the surface it’s a lighthearted, comedy musical. At heart it’s the story of the fact that everyone needs a safe place to be themselves, even if ‘being themselves’ involves dressing up as someone else.
Where did the idea come from to turn this urban legend into a musical?
I first read the story in the paper and knew I had to do something with it because it was so outrageous and funny. As soon as I scratched the surface I realised there was a much bigger story to tell. The action of the play takes place as Freddie comes to terms with his HIV diagnosis, Kenny is at war with his ex-wife for telling the world he was gay and Diana is about to divorce the Royal Family… an unbelievably brave and terrifying step to take.
How did you approach characterisation of the three leads?
The most important thing for me was to honour the memory of three iconic figures, and to find the humanity in their story that is often missing from the tabloid reverie, both salacious and sycophantic, that surrounds their lives. I spoke to as many people as I could who knew first hand details of their lives and what they were like when they were out of the public eye. The characters are very much heightened for the medium of musical comedy, but they are drawn with depth and sensitivity as well. I like to think that Freddie, Kenny and Di would all be pleased with the way I chose to tell this story.
What can you tell us about the music?
I worked hard to recreate the musical environment of the eighties, with a heady mix of disco pop and Queen infused rock, but I also managed to give both of those genres my own musical twist and to add some depth to the lyrics. It has a lot of fun.
Most of the action is set in the RVT, and that’s where you first performed it, did the physical space affect the story at all?
I don’t think any of us were ready for the physical and emotional impact of bringing this story to the stage at the RVT. The pub itself is a hallowed space, where many of my greatest idols have performed. There’s something about walking through the doors of the RVT that feels instantly intoxicating; it’s dark and sexy but it also has a womb-like sense of comfort and safety. As soon as we started rehearsing in the space we knew that the action wasn’t going to stay on the stage…we wanted to inhabit every corner of the venue, and when you see the show you’ll realise that every nook and cranny gets used at some point during the show.
Can you tell us about the cast?
Preparing for the Diana Anniversary Tour has given me the chance to work with yet another fabulous group of creatives. I’m thrilled to finally be able to work with Joe Morose, who is playing Kenny Everett with an extraordinary degree of passion, energy and vulnerability. Carrie Marx as Princess Diana is simply sensational. Carrie was born to play Princess Di and the journey that she goes on through the play is a joy to watch; heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure. And of course this time round I am finally getting the chance to play Freddie Mercury which has been a secret dream since I wrote the show. We’ve all been steered masterfully by Zoie Kennedy whose direction shows a really deep understanding of the themes of the play and the range of stylistic choices that are available from scene to scene. Alex Luttley (Pi the Mime) has created some brilliant choreography and movement direction. We’ve been blessed with a uniquely wonderful company.
What would you like people to take away from the show?
I’d like people to discover something about themselves in this story about three very famous people. Most, if not all people, have needed to step away from a toxic relationship, having to come to terms with our own mortality and accepting parts of ourselves with which we might not be immediately comfortable. Royal Vauxhall is about resolving those conflicts and doing whatever it takes to allow your true self to shine.