BWW Reviews: THE QUEEN'S KNICKERS, Southbank Centre, February 18 2013
Nicholas Allan's best-selling children's book The Queen's Knickers has been adapted for the stage by Oliver Birch and John Biddle for what is turning into a hugely popular run at the Southbank Centre this half term. It is part of the centre's Imagine children's festival and is designed for ages 3+, though there is plenty here to entertain older kids as well as very young ones.
Kate Copeland and Heather Saunders play all the parts, switching between silly voices as they rattle through the book's comic cast of beef-eating beefeaters, knicker-nicker nicking cops, 1940s brigadiers and Sloaney corgis. The plot centres on Dilys, the keeper of the Queen's knickers, and Lucy, a little girl desperate to meet HM, who persuades Dilys to let her have a peek inside the top-secret Queen's knicker room. It's an Aladdin's cave of underwear. There are royal wedding knickers, gArden Party knickers (with flowers on), knickers for horse-riding (decorated with horseshoes and with extra padding), frilly baggy bloomers that belonged to Queen Victoria and a great many more. The oversized collection hung up like bunting makes for a colourful stage.
Throughout, in fact, there is a lot for young children to look at, with bright costumes and quirky props to keep things lively: a banana is used as a microphone and a mint-coloured toilet seat as a rubber ring. Fans of the book will be pleased to see that drawings in the style of the book's illustrations are featured, in the form of royal portraits. There are songs too and, although the backing tracks that accompany them are not all that inspiring, the lyrics are accessible for all ages. It's impressive to get three-year-olds and adults giggling at the same song.
When the Queen's knickers go missing things quickly get out of hand and a state of emergency is declared, with the nation on high-level "pink alert". People are protesting in the streets and stock-piling emergency knickers in case the same twisted individual who stole the Queen's comes after theirs next ("Imagine, a world without knickers!") and meanwhile the Queen herself has gone into hiding until her underwear is retrieved.
Through Lucy's hard detective work - and the Queen's realisation that she can nip to M&S for some comfy new white knickers - things are eventually resolved. Lots of witty ideas, a healthy dose of clowning, and a great storyline make this a great play for young children and a good focal point for exploring the many other events on offer as part of the festival.