In what Hamlet might call an e’er hasty marriage, The Windsors Endgame has been rushed into the Prince of Wales as a summer filler to temporarily replace one deliberately bad-taste show with a no-taste one, as The Book of Mormon remains on its Covid hiatus. It’s by some stretch the best joke of the show that this ‘comedy’ based on the premise of Prince Charles finally ascending to the throne should be playing at his namesake theatre, the Prince of Wales.
But the producers might have resisted this welcome synchronicity and sought out a better script first than this mostly feeble, elongated spin-off of a popular TV show that offers a comic riff on our current crop of royals, a seemingly doomed task anyway as they so often prove beyond parody.
Or, for that matter, give us much to laugh about, even unintentionally: this show opened on the day that the tabloids led with Virginia Giuffre filing a lawsuit against Prince Andrew (pictured above as a court jester) alleging that she was sexually abused by him after previously publicly claiming that she had been trafficked by the late Jeffrey Epstein and forded to perform sex acts with his friends, including the Prince, when she was legally underage.
That may have been particularly poor timing for the show, since any jokes at his expense as an alleged sex abuser with a penchant for younger flesh inevitably stick in the throat when confronted with the possible sickening human consequences.
But then this is a show whose light-hearted, cartoonish spin on royal shenanigans deliberately flirts with bad taste, suggesting at one point that the real reason for the disharmony between the royal brothers William and Harry could be that Harry had sex with William’s wife Kate (pictured above), while even more bizarrely the brothers are observed in an incestuous snog at another point.
Even a non-royalist might suggest they deserve a little more (self) respect. In a feature in The Times last weekend, Harry Enfield — reprising his star turn from the TV series as Prince Charles — explained how this stage version was rushed into production, despite the death of co-writer George Jeffric, aged just 56, last September, and how “the show must go on.” But must it have? “In July this year the Prince of Wales Theatre becomes available from August until October. It is such short notice that only a few cast members from the TV show are available. The rest of the family must be recast in two weeks.”
I spoke to the husband of one sitting beside me at the first night who told me his wife had submitted a self-tape audition on Thursday and was in rehearsal by Monday. They join TV holdovers Enfield, Tom Durant-Pritchard as Prince Harry, Tim Wallers as Prince Andrew and Matthew Cottle as Prince Edward.
Each of these actors are comedically gifted; Cottle has a nice line in Nigel Havers-like theatrical deprecation as he pokes fun at his desperation to play along (and reference Prince Edward’s long-ago turn as an Andrew Lloyd Webber lackey), Wallers is a blusteringly guilty Andrew, and Durant-Pritchard is even more of a heartthrob than Harry is seen to be in some quarters.
There’s some luxury casting across the incoming rank of new cast members, too. with Tracy-Ann Oberman in fine, fierce form (above left, with Enfield as Charles) as an overbearing Camilla plotting on installing her husband Charles as an absolute monarch rather than a merely decorative constitutional one; Sophie-Louise Dann as a very funny Fergie, now doing duty as a cocktail waitress at the Palace; Ciaran Owens and Kara Tointon as Kate and Wills; Eliza Butterworth and Jenny Rainsford as Andrew and Fergie’s daughters Beatrice and Eugenie and Crystal Condie as Meghan.
But even though director Michael Fentiman keeps the pace fast and frantic, this is hardly in the beloved Ray Cooney mould of frantic farce that kept the West End alive with the sound of laugher in former decades.
I also couldn’t help think that this play has, in fact, already been written and far better, funnier and more thoughtful than this, when Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III transferred from the Almeida to Wyndham’s in 2014.