Here’s a comedy for those of us who hid from the acres of bunting and endless TV updates about the Platinum jubilee – or so it seems at first.
It is 2002, the year of the Golden jubilee and the Queen is visiting a comprehensive school for the very royal duty of opening its new science block. Derek Jones (Charlie Condou), a physics teacher and staunch republican, is not amused and ducks out of the grand occasion only to wind up trapped in a portable toilet with Her Majesty (Mary Roscoe) during a bomb scare.
John Goldsmith’s play, directed by Anthony Biggs, rests on a quirky conceit and the encounter between strident republican and head of state has lots of potential for comic clashes and barbed laughs at the expense of the monarchy.
No such luck, sadly. There is some charm but not many actual laughs and the humour is not nearly biting enough. The pace is slow, verging on sleepy, with light, whimsical conversation that skims across the touch-points without bringing much to them, from Princess Diana to New Labour and the Queen’s love of horses.
There is also talk about Schrödinger’s Cat and the “examined life” but again it is light on jokes and static in its drama. The characters simply witter on and their clashes are disappointingly amicable even when they are arguing about the pros and cons of constitutional monarchy.
There are a few good gags: Jones tells us that the school’s motto is “Either Learn or Leave” while the Queen has a swooning moment as she tells Derek about the time a protester lobbed an egg at her and Philip – her prince in shining armour – cleaned it off her coat. There are less original moments, including a quick riff on what might be in her handbag (we half expect the dreaded marmalade sandwich to be revealed but thankfully it is left a mystery).
The actors are likable though, especially Condou’s Derek who says he is always angry but comes across as a rather sweet, mild-mannered type. Roscoe’s queen is no Helen Mirren but she perfects the clipped, slightly nasal tone of voice and gives her monarch a haughty disdain that sometimes makes her appear more like one of Oscar Wilde’s wealthy, whey-faced dowagers.
Condou has a good repertoire of harrowed facial expressions for the bomb scare (the Queen has seen it all before and stays as cool as a cucumber), but this part of the plot is not resolved: the identity or purpose of the “terrorist” is never explained which feels unsatisfactory.
Ultimately, the biggest crime here is Derek’s wholly unconvincing abandonment of a lifetime’s republicanism after a few hours in the loo with the Queen, after which he apologises for all the “horrible things I said about the British monarchy”.
At Charing Cross theatre, London, until 30 July.