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Tea with the Old Queen
Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012
4

4 stars

C venues - C aquila (venue website)
Theatre
2-27 Aug, 5:25pm-6:15pm
Reviewed by Brianne Moore

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Cheeky. That's the one word I would use to describe Tea With the Old Queen, a lively, irreverent, sometimes naughty, often hilarious look at the royal family through the eyes of a loyal servant, William.

William has served Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, since the 1950's, and he's seen it all: misbehaving royals, overzealous policemen, and the faux pas of many a head of state. He's collected them all in his memoirs, which he reads aloud to the audience. They transport us to a world of tradition and tipples at 10 a.m., where the worst thing that can happen is you run out of gin or Princess Margaret sets off Sandringham's smoke detectors with her endless cigarettes.

William, played by Ian Stark, is a wry observer and excellent storyteller who's aware of his limitations and makes them part of the joke. ('Please keep up your applause whilst I push my stent back in,' he asks the audience after a bout of dancing.) He's also entirely believable, not a caricature. I really do feel that most long-term royal servants are like this: steadfastly loyal, a bit snobby (he definitely looks down on Cherie Blair, for instance), and fiercely proud of their positions. You do not mistake William for a mere footman or a car park attendant – he will take his revenge if you do, and what an excellent revenge it always is.

Of course, when one is the perfect servant, one’s own life must necessarily take a back seat to those you serve. This is a fact that's rather subtly illustrated by the brief mentions of William's partner, Reginald's, ill health, which are suddenly tacked on to longer stories about the royals. Something that would feature very centrally in the lives of most people here becomes a mere footnote in someone else's story, and there's a sadness to that.

But not too much sadness. This is, after all, a comedy, and it serves up plenty of laughs. William is happy in the life he's chosen, and he never lets himself get too weighed down by reality or tragedy. Like the indomitable woman he serves, he smiles, has a drink, keeps calm, and carries on.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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