Theatre review: Bohemian Rhapsody, Edinburgh

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RE IS it theatre? Is it a rock gig? Is it a burlesque show featuring a good-looking young cast in corsets?

Bohemian Rhapsody

Edinburgh Playhouse

* * *

It’s a little bit of all three, David King’s spectacular but straightforward Queen tribute show, which features no plot, almost no introductions, and no fewer than 28 well-known and well-loved Queen songs, delivered with impressive energy by a cast of six singers led by X-Factor star Nathan James, dancers, and a five-piece band.

Martin Perkins’s set – dazzlingly lit by Paul Gould – offers a classic rock-concert stage, all star-studded backdrop, scaffolding band platform, and large lighting gantries that sweep down from roof to floor; and by the end, the audience of dedicated Queen fans are happily on their feet, clapping and swaying their way through the final set of classics, from Bohemian Rhapsody to We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.

Despite a lack of any narrative distractions, though, Bohemian Rhapsody often seems oddly out of tune with the spirit of Queen as a band, compared with their famously complex narrative tribute show We Will Rock You, which features a bizarre science-fiction plot. There’s something about the format – the routine raunchiness of the costumes, Nathan James’s pseudo-American rock voice, and sometimes the texture of the musical arrangements – that just misses the essential innovative strangeness of Queen as a band, their sense of wit and challenge.

There are some fine performers on stage, including singer Rebecca Kelly, lead guitarist Drew Lowe, and male vocalist Ben Smith, who truly sounds like Freddie Mercury, particularly in a brilliantly-realised version of Bicycle. In the end, though, this glitzy-looking rock gig doesn’t quite do justice to one of the most inventive bands in rock history; perhaps if their genius is to find theatrical form, a bit of fantasy, sci-fi, and wild imagination is necessary, after all.