MONARCHY the Musical

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

21/07/2007 - 25/08/2007

Production Details

Book and Lyrics by PAUL JENDEN

A Fun-filled History of Royal Romance and Scandal

Amity, vanity, royal insanity … MONARCHY is another fabulous fun-packed musical from the team that brought you the hugely successful TROY! 

MONARCHY The Musical has its World Premiere at Circa One on Saturday 21st July at 8pm and runs until 25th August.

A wickedly funny portrayal of the English Throne in song, MONARCHY The Musical unpicks the rich tapestry of royal history, laying bare the lives of all the great monarchs, and their famous – and infamous – consorts, lovers and rivals.

From 802AD to the present day they are all there – the Kings & Queens: Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, all the Henries, Edwards, Georges and both Elizabeths, and all of the famous females like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mary Queen of Scots, Nell Gwyn and the infamous Mrs Simpson.

But as well, there are a few figures we don’t know so well: Emma of Normandy, crowned Queen a second time after marrying her son’s rival for the throne despite the fact that he was already married, or George the First’s two mistresses – Sophia Charlotte Kielmannsegg and Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg, known as ‘The Maypole’ and ‘The Elephant’.

And then there’re the really silly ones – like Richard the Second who invented the handkerchief.

But like TROY, MONARCHY is mostly about extraordinary people – their passions and romances, their triumphs and their scandals.

With its stunningly sumptuous costumes, fabulously talented cast of 8 singers and actors, a live band, dancers and backing vocals plus the sparkling creativity of the prodigiously talented Paul Jenden and Gareth Farr, who have firmly put the comedy back into musical comedies, MONARCHY The Musical is a royal appointment for an evening of laughter you don’t want to miss.

Performance times: 
Tues & Wed – 6.30pm;   
Thurs, Fri and Sat – 8pm;   
Sun – 4pm.

$35 Adults;   
$28  Students, Senior Citizens and Beneficiaries
$30 Groups 6+
$18  Student Standby – from 1 hour before the show
1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992

CAST (see details below)


TIM SOLLY - Keyboards
RICHARD WISE - Drums, Percussion

Backing Vocals: 
Jennifer Fouhy, Adam Koveskali 

Costume Design: PAUL JENDEN
Lighting Design: JENNIFER LAL
Sound Design: IAN HULL-BROWN

Stage Manager - Eric Gardiner
Dresser - Helen Moate
Lighting Operator - Marcus McShane
Sound Operator - Dawa Devereux or Ian Hull-Brown
Costume Production - Paul Jenden
Set Construction - Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins
Set painting - Eileen McCann
Publicity - Claire Treloar
Graphic Design - Rose Miller, Parlour
Photography - Stephen A'Court
Dramaturgy - Susan Wilson
House Manager          - Suzanne Blackburn
Front of House - Linda Wilson


Christina Cusiel plays: Elizabeth 2

Judith Gibson plays: Aethelbald, Edward the Elder, Eadwig, Hardicanute, Edith, Matilda 2, Isabella, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth 1, Mary 2, The Mistress, Queen Charlotte, Mrs Jordan, Old Victoria, Queen Mary

Emma Kinane plays: Aethelbert, Edmund the Magnificent, Emma of Normandy, Matilda 1, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen Anne, Mrs Fitzherbert, Alexandra, The Queen Mother

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford plays: Aethelred, Aethelstan, Edgar, Aelgifu, Harold, Matilda 3, Louis, Edward 5, Jane Seymour, Mary Queen of Scots, Nell Gwyn, Sarah Churchill, Sophia Charlotte Kielmannsegg, Princess Caroline, Young Victoria, Alice Keppel, Mrs Simpson

Julian Wilson plays: Alfred the Great, Edward the Martyr, Harald Harefoot, Henry 1, John, Edward 2, Richard 2, Henry 5, Richard 3, Catherine Howard, Charles 1, James 2, George 2, George 4, Prince Albert, Edward 8

Jeff Kingsford-Brown plays: Egbert, Eadred, Svein/Canute, William the Conqueror, Henry 2, Henry 3, Edward 2's Lover, Edward 3, Edward 4, Henry 7, Anne of Cleves, James 1, Cromwell, Charles 2, William of Orange, George 1, George 3, William 4, Edward 7, George 6

Aidan Bell plays: Aethelwulf, Aethelred the Unready/Edmund 1, Edward the Confessor, William 2, Stephen, Richard the Lionheart, Edward 1, Mortimer, Henry 4, Catherine Parr, Henry Stuart, Louis 14, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenburg,  Prince Philip, George 5

Louis Solino plays: The Old Retainer

Theatre , Musical ,

2 hrs approx

“Monarchy is musical chairs, all high kicks and foreign affairs…”

Review by Eleanor Bishop 26th Aug 2007

Monarchy the Musical is a romp through history and in the tradition of great musicals: it’s sheer spectacle. Act I covers the Wessexes from 802 to the Stuarts in 1649. It moves quickly through monarch after monarch, pausing occasionally to delve deeper into the stories of Richard III or Eleanor of Aquitaine (which I enjoyed immensely, for personal reasons). Act I ends dramatically with the dissolving of the monarchy by Oliver Cromwell. Act II covers 1660 to the present day, and moves more slowly. The show suffers somewhat for having no clear storyline, but never the less certain themes emerge: loneliness, the struggles for power, infidelities and failed marriages.

Queen Elizabeth II (Christina Cusiel) is our narrator throughout the play, with six excellent other actors playing 15 or so other characters each. One of the most interesting theatrical devices is the role of The Old Retainer played by Louis Solino – he introduces characters, takes their lives and controls the action. In the end, he is subordinated by our reigning Monarch Queen Elizabeth II, with a hearty chorus of "God save the Queen".

It’s a musical with all the trimmings: lavish sets and costumes, zillions of lighting changes and back-up dancers. Still, there were plenty of fake swords, swooning and bad theatrical deaths, which I like.

There are some truly touching moments, such as the life of baby King Henry V (as puppet) being snuffed out. And certain songs, such as "Lonely at the Top" which presented the world of the monarch from a female perspective, were able to tap into something quite human.

The opening night audience loved it. It’s funny, but even funnier if you have a good knowledge of English history. Ultimately it’s a joyful celebration of monarchy.


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Many jewels in the royal repartee

Review by Melody Nixon 29th Jul 2007

Monarchy the Musical puns heavily on the idea of musical chairs. The music pauses, and the kings and queens of British monarchic history dash for the throne in a fervour of greed and excitement. Those left standing are either executed, or made use of to breed sons. As the cast of this Circa show enthusiastically reiterates: “The fun is where you’re standing when the music stops!”

From the crew who brought the very well received Troy the Musical to the Circa stage last year, Monarchy is a tongue in cheek portrayal of a history of savagery, inbreeding, deception, patriarchy and, finally, a questionable refinement. It is elegantly watched over by our modern day queen, Elizabeth II (Christina Cusiel), who shares a few of her own secrets while remaining a rock of astute and nonplussed narration throughout.

The first act rushes through a large block of families, from the ninth century Wessexes, replete with what looks like bear fur slung about their shoulders, to the Tudors and Stuarts, and their seventeenth century air of reposed understatement. The second act deals with a more familiar time period, from the restored Stuarts to the Windsors, and delves deeper into story, anecdote and comedy.

Though well placed to coincide with a metaphorical as well as literal Interval (1649 – 1660), the two acts were unbalanced; the first too light on story and imagery, with too frequent and short changes between royal families. This may in part be to do with the sheer volume of monarchs to get through; however in the first half of the first act there was an unsettling feeling of rushing. Only in the second act did the pace slow to a level where we could properly engage with the spectacle.

Several of the Troy team returned to fill the cast of Monarchy; Emma Kinane reappears in a plethora of roles, particularly shining as Catherine of Aragon and the unfortunate Queen Mother; and Aidan Bell moved from last year’s Odysseus to fill the shoes of fifteen kings. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, just concluded in her role as Fat Pig’s Jeannie, was perhaps the night’s most flexible and charismatic performer, her role as Sarah Churchill displaying her ability to fill loud, extrovert roles and keep them endearing. As Mary Queen of Scots Rutherford performed a stellar duet with Elizabeth I (Jude Gibson), and with Cusiel the three provided the strongest vocals on opening night.

Julian Wilson is perhaps in danger of becoming typecast; his flapping, camp performances remain hilarious but do not seem to vary greatly from production to production. The well accomplished Jeff Kingsford-Brown was let down by illness on opening night, his voice difficult to hear at times and well below its usual par of excellence. Despite this he formed an important backbone for the show, hilariously filling roles which ranged from self deprecating to self indulgent. And Louis Solino was a suitably unmoved Old Retainer, symbolically ‘executing’ each monarch when their time came to fall.

Overall, there were many jewels in the night’s royal repartee. Several musical numbers stood out for their quality emotive or comedic value. The Tudor chorus brought the audience into close attention with is despairing and powerful harmonising. And the sorrow of Henry the 1st’s three Matilda’s, singing “all they want from us is a uterus,” was very well received (although the irony of the high heeled, mini dress wearing cabaret girls, who could have easily replaced “uterus” with “legs” seemed to be lost on director Paul Jenden).

These back up dancers did appear incongruous with the style of the rest of the show, and one wondered why the production needed the extra, er, pairs of legs at all. Perhaps the crew detected the show was lacking in entertainment value in some aspects. Despite its glitz, its well crafted and informed script, its astounding array of perfectly matched costumes (also, remarkably, created by Jenden) and its strong performances, Monarchy the Musical failed to deliver as much of a good time as it promised. Not the best musical Circa has produced then, but still worth attending for those who hold musicals, and monarchs, close to their heart.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Long may they reign

Review by John Smythe 23rd Jul 2007

There is a malevolence about the mute and black-clad court jester (Louis Solino) that instantly signals MONARCHY the Musical will be more than a jolly little irreverent romp. The Joker in the pack for an endless power game of chance, skill and subterfuge, he will usher in each King and Queen of England and see them out at their reign’s end. Billed in the programme as ‘The Old Retainer’, he returns in the 2nd half as a Restoration courtier, still clad in black and white-faced. A silent harbinger of death, he could well be the progeny of the Blackadder and Dracula families.

Our hostess, however, for this musical miscellany of monarchs, is HRH Queen Elizabeth II (Christina Cuisel). A deep despondency underlies her regal bearing as she addresses the matters of contention that have come to her attention concerning The Firm’s position in 21st Century Britain.

In her review (revue) of 12 centuries of British monarchy (apart from one brief Cromwellian cropper), the other six actor/singers – Jude Gibson, Emma Kinane, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Julian Wilson, Jeff Kingsford-Brown and Aidan Bell – play 93 roles between them. All is sung, beautifully, with backing vocals from Jennifer Fouhy and Adam Koveskali, and just a trio of musicians (Michael Nicholas Williams, Tim Solly and Richard Wise), in a wide range of styles that never jar, even when they are wittily anachronistic.

Part One starts with The Wessexes in 803 (Aethelred and all the other Ethel lads) and moves on to his Saxon namesake, Ethelred, briefly deposed by the Danes (Svein and Canute), through the Normans (William the Conqueror and all that), Plantagenets, Lancasters, Yorks and Tudors to The Stuarts, only to have the monarchy itself abolished by Oliver ("you don’t have to vote, just trust me") Cromwell. 

Part Two restores the Stuarts and moves inexorably on through the Hanovers, Saxe-Coburgh-Gothas to the Windsors, bless ’em. And one of the small miracles of this exquisite show is that we are never in doubt as to who is whom, where they stand, and how they feel as the panoply of corruption, intrigue and inherent dysfunction unfolds.

Swift as it necessarily is in its rundown – "the point is where you’re sitting when the music stops" – accuracy does not appear to have suffered. Indeed Richard III is at great pains to point out he was not a bit like the bloke in the play that Shakespeare wrote; that evil deformed little man as played by Laurence Olivier. And other truths are perhaps more clearly articulated here than in most text books – e.g. this plaintive Plantagenet women’s lament:
  The monarchy must
  Be inherited by
  One with no bust
  It must be a man
  All they want from us
  Is a uterus …

Then, once queens come to rule, it proves lonely at the top: "We" for a queen only ever means "me". Some monarch’s mistresses get a good hearing too, but not the crass American go-getter Mrs Simpson.

Every crafted word, musical note, ingenious rhyme, telling prop, evocative costume and character-forming wig pays its way. With the sure hand of an expert political cartoonist, creator Paul Jenden (book, lyrics and costume design), composer Gareth Farr and his co-arranger Michael Nicholas Williams (also musical director), draw from and with the cast to sketch in the lineage of ‘The Throne’: an institution that has held countless generations and neighbouring nations in its gilded thrall. And Jennifer Lal’s lighting, on John Hodgkins’ majestic awning and dais set, is spot on.

A tireless quartet of dancers (Siobhan Lynch, Zoe Poole, Esther Robinson, Madeleine Schmidt) redolent of ‘Swinging London’ in Mary Quantish minis, enhance the visual symphony. And while there is continuous movement, fluidly choreographed and dynamically paced to ring the changes of fortune and style, it is fair to add there is not a lot of dramatic action as such. We are told more than shown the details of events – Ian Hull-Brown’s sound design ensuring the lyrics are clear at all times (from where I sit anyway) – which renders the work closer to a comic opera chamber concert than a fully-fledged stage musical.

Of course most participants in the parade have had their stories detailed in many forms. By taking it all at a run like this, we see resonances of now in parts of the past and vice versa: the more things change the more they stay the same …

What makes the show especially compelling, for me, is the panache with which this extraordinary ensemble pulls off this epic challenge. When they are not inhabiting their on-stage roles, they are off quick-changing and sometimes, I’m told, simultaneously adding backing vocals for the bigger numbers from backstage.

Each actor/singer captures an essence of each character and their key relationships with a succinct economy that speaks volumes. Each excels in solo and ensemble. Their two, three and four-part harmonies are impeccable, whether witty, raunchy or poignant.  The collective confidence of this ensemble suggests Jenden as director has also done an excellent job of aligning everyone to a shared vision.

(Afterwards I discovered Messrs Bell and Kingsford-Brown were still battling bad bouts of the ‘flu and it’s a testament to their professionalism and the support of the whole company – not to mention the efficacy of ‘Dr Greasepaint’ – that this was not apparent in performance.)

As with Helen Mirren’s cinema depiction in The Queen, Christina Cusiel maintains the old girl’s dignity to the end (except I do wish she’d sing "history" instead of "histery"), although the show implies she may well be the last to reign. Or will she?
  It may be toothless
  The constitutional monarchy
  But I’ll be ruthless
  With anyone who screws with me …

Two surprises accompany the finalé. The first is that only six actors accompany the Queen and Old Retainer for the curtain call. Can they really have populated all that history so entirely? The second is that so much has been imparted so memorably and with such apparent ease. As a chap said later in the Gents: "If they’d taught history like that at school I’d’ve been much more interested."

As with the same crew’s triumphant TROY the Musical last year, I see no reason why MONARCHY the Musical should not play around the country and the world. It should at least be produced throughout what has been the British Empire and Commonwealth. It’d go like a bomb down in Mumbai! 

I am excited to discover all over again that this town can attract and sustain the talent to create, produce and perform a show as sophisticated yet populist as this. Long may Jenden, Farr et al reign.  


John Smythe July 24th, 2007

Ooops - was that insensitive? I simply mean that any place that has been in the thrall of The Throne of England at any time in its history should get a buzz out of MONARCHY THE MUSICAL.

Sonal Patel July 24th, 2007

"It'd go like a bomb in Mumbai!" You're kidding me right, I mis-read that sentence, surely? Or are you trying to say that production will be as welcome as your use of that phrase is?

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Confident, sleek, sophisticated

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Jul 2007

Imagine the farce of Black Adder and the Carry On movies mixed with the gentler and subtler humour of Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066 and All That, and throw in some high camp musical comedy as well as a few moments of pathos and you have Monarchy: The Musical.

This sung-through musical is presided over by a dour HMQ (Christina Cusiel) who, like Queen Victoria, seems to be unamused by her ancestors’ shenanigans. But the real power behind the throne of this incredible history is The Old Retainer (Louis Solino) who dispatches the monarchs with icy efficiency to either their deathbeds (rare at the start) or the Tower, or a bloody battlefield or even nastier deaths.

The themes of the musical can be summed up by Shakespeare who had two kings contradict each other with ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’ and ‘How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown.’ But the main message from HMQ, the same incidentally as in the movie The Queen, is encapsulated in her song It’s Lonely at the Top.

Shakespeare also has Prince Hal describe the crown as a troublesome bedfellow and troublesome bedfellows come into Monarchy quite a bit (The Life of a Mistress)including Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Fitzherbert, Alice Keppel,  and of course that vulgar Mrs. Simpson (played brilliantly as a gold digger with overtones of Ethel Merman by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford). More recent troublesome bedfellows are subtly alluded to.

The history lesson starts with the confusing Egg-Kings (Egbert etc), made more confusing by the occasional muffled sound amplification, but once William the Conqueror (Jeff Kingsford-Brown)  conquers England as Maurice Chevalier supported by four can-can girls the tone of the evening has been set – or so you think.

But every now and then, amongst the very funny scenes such as Julian Wilson’s PR job on Richard III and Aidan Bell’s queenly Richard the Lionheart, we are caught by a song expressing the loneliness of the friendless Queen Anne (Emma Kinane) and later by the unexpected love song to Albert sung by a young Victoria (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford) and a widowed Victoria (Jude Gibson).

It’s a much more confident, sleekly put-together show than last year’s triumph of Troy: the Musical. Gareth Farr’s music is the most sophisticated and successful ever written for any home-grown musical and Paul Jenden’s lyrics (when you are not straining to hear them) seem to be clever and witty. The production is slick, the band is excellent, the cast is terrific and Paul Jenden’s truly amazing costumes (there must be hundreds of them) are alone worth the price of a ticket.
It may not make monarchists of us all but a goodly number of the audience seemed to be standing for God Save the Queen at the curtain call on the opening night.


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