From the National Theatre of Brent to The Play That Goes Wrong, the paradox of theatrical incompetence skilfully delivered forms a successful sub-genre. The comedy of dodgy props, missed cues and feuding co-stars drives Daniel Clarkson’s The Crown Dual, but with shades, too, of the farcical canonical gallops of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Potted Potter (written by Clarkson), as Rosie Holt and Brendan Murphy perform an energetic compression of the first two seasons of the Netflix Windsor biopic, The Crown.
In a very Brent-ish premise, Holt’s Beth Buckingham, a struggling actress, has persuaded her underachieving agent, Stanley Diamond, to stage a showcase for her alternative version of Claire Foy’s Elizabeth II. Their snippets of history from Elizabeth’s accession to Suez hope to impress a Netflix executive, a role into which a theatregoer is coerced. (Audience participation phobics should avoid the front rows; last night, a plucky woman was cast as the entire boys’ choir at the Queen’s coronation.)
Holt mainly plays Foy-as-QEII, a perky impersonation that also adds some intriguing notes of darkness to the character. Murphy-as-Diamond does everyone else, a virtuoso quick-change sex-change blizzard including Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Winston Churchill and Group Captain Peter Townsend. The two performers are briefly on all fours in a very unusual sex scene.
The humour is often broad, but also inventive, in a Tim Vine wordplay way. Murphy’s George VI alarms Princess Elizabeth by describing a potential husband as “arsehole, arsehole” before the king’s speech defect resolves itself as “a soldier”. The entrance of Edward VIII is mysteriously accompanied by an electronically synthesised version of Deutschland Über Alles, until the actor stage-hisses at the technicians: “I said Nazi sympathiser.”
The show feels perfect for the summer festival in the city of Prince Philip’s dukedom, and at small theatres beyond, with further series of The Crown perhaps spawning Crown Dual sequels. I left the theatre happily fantasising about Holt and Murphy as Diana and Charles.