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Prince Andrew: The Musical review – plays the Epstein scandal for laughs in a way that is … not OK
Look, it’s Christmas and anyone who puts a lyric in front of me that rhymes “pizza Fiorentina” with “friend soliciting a minor” has my heart for ever, but I do still wish that hadn’t been the highlight of Channel 4’s Prince Andrew: The Musical.
It is written and scored almost in its entirety by Kieran Hodgson, character comedian, actor, musician and creator of Bad TV Impressions on Twitter, which were tremendously good, as well as being swift and perfect distillations of the shows themselves and kept us going through lockdown. But while Prince Andrew: The Musical is to be applauded as a great near-solo feat, it never quite flies.
We begin with The Interview. I still need fair warning if there is going to be real footage of that terrible, terrible night. I clawed at my face as almost every lowlight was brought before us again. Denying ever going upstairs in Ghislaine Maxwell’s house. The inability to sweat after an overload of adrenaline in the Falklands. Not regretting his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein due to “the people that I met and the opportunities I was given to learn”.
At last – my face was in ribbons – the clips were over and Hodgson as Prince Andrew (the voice and irreducibly smug expression caught to perfection) and Emma Sidi as Emily Maitlis burst into song, their different takes on the success of the interview as a PR stunt usefully summarised by the couplet endings “failed it/nailed it”.
Then a brisk trot with roughly one number per era through his childhood as his mother’s favourite son, his years in the navy and fighting in the Falklands (“Raise the flag at Port Stanley / How can one man be this manly!”) and his time as eligible bachelor “Randy Andy” before he settled down, albeit relatively briefly, with Sarah Ferguson. And then his first meeting with Ghislaine – “Everything going so swimmingly! / But why are we now in a minor key?” – and back to The Interview and its aftermath, with a furious Prince Charles (Munya Chawawa) reining in Andrew’s use of his title and taking him off the roster of public duties.
The characterisations, apart from Hodgson’s as the Duke of York, are oddly inaccurate, coming as they do from someone normally so brilliant at giving us the essence of a thing. Fergie is bland to the point of forgettable, the very opposite of what she was and what the songs are telling us she is. There is also a running joke about them forgetting that they have Eugenie as a daughter as well as Beatrice. Which is just not them, is it? The defining feature of the Yorks (and indeed the subject of another song) is that they were always, even after the divorce, an unusually close royal family unit. Similarly, Prince Charles is barely recognisable, not so much because Chawawa has a different skin colour but because they give him bushy grey eyebrows, a grey beard and have him talk about and touch a receding hairline that is not receding at all. It all feels messy and not nearly as tight or acute as it needs to be.
The final number comprises Andrew’s tap-dancing protestations against his demotion. He points out that, just as Edward VIII’s dalliance with the Third Reich made his brother George VI all the more beloved, so Andrew’s missteps have made the rest of them – a slide of Prince Charles in smiling conversation with Jimmy Savile pops up at this point – that much safer. But eventually Charles and all the backup dancers drift away, leaving Andrew desperately capering alone on the stage. A caption informs us that the prince settled the sexual assault case against him for an undisclosed sum this year and has been “banished” from public duties as a working royal. “However,” it adds, “he remains: duke of York, a counsellor of state and eighth in line to the throne.”
This, alas, is as savage as it gets. And it feels like far too little, too late in a hour that has not really taken aim, let alone hit a target, anywhere. The minor scandals, or what seem like minor scandals compared to what came later (remember “Air Miles Andy”? That one broke only 12 years ago) – are nodded to but never drilled down on. Neither is the actual Epstein horror rather than the interview about it. And there is horror there. It feels slightly wrong to be playing it merely for laughs, as if the Queen’s favourite son merely went slightly too far with his shenanigans this time. It lets him off the hook once again and, to my mind, puts the victims too far out of mind as well.
Prince Andrew: The Musical – Wikipedia
Prince Andrew: The Musical is a British made-for-television biographical musical comedy film written by and starring Kieran Hodgson. The musical is a “satirical send-up” of the life of Prince Andrew, Duke of York and covers key events during his life, including his relationships, controversies, and his infamous 2019 interview with journalist Emily Maitlis.
The musical aired on Channel 4 on 29 December 2022 and also stars Emma Sidi as Maitlis, Munya Chawawa as Andrew’s brother King Charles III and Harry Enfield as former Prime Minister Tony Blair. It’s part of the network’s newly commissioned programmes to mark its 40th anniversary and was first announced in August 2022 at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
- Kieran Hodgson as Prince Andrew
- Emma Sidi as Emily Maitlis
- Munya Chawawa as Prince Charles
- Jenny Bede as Sarah Ferguson
- Harry Enfield as Tony Blair
- Baga Chipz as Margaret Thatcher
- Joe Wilkinson as newspaper vendor
|Country of origin
|Hat Trick Productions
|29 December 2022
The music was recorded by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra in Angel Studios, conducted by Freddie Tapner. The 32-piece orchestra consisted of six woodwinds, two french horns, three trumpets, three trombones, drums, percussion, guitar, piano, bass, harp, 8 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos. The orchestrations were by Simon Nathan.
Prince Andrew: The Musical | All 4 – Channel 4
After a year that’s seen TV dominated by royals, from the inescapable coverage of the Queen’s death to the much-debated fifth season of The Crown and Harry and Meghan’s tell-all Netflix documentary, Prince Andrew: The Musical feels like a darkly fitting conclusion. Naturally, there will be people who slam this Christmas special, written by and starring impressionist Kieran Hodgson, for the title alone. Should you make comedy about these serious allegations – sexual abuse, sex trafficking and paedophilia – at all?
In the end, PATM doesn’t actually try to. This is not a South Park-esque edgelord musical retelling, with jokes making light of Andrew’s behaviour. In fact, the allegations are largely tap-danced around, while the royal is painted as a general wrong ‘un. Instead, we go on a journey through Andrew’s life, with lengthy compilations of archive footage overlaid with a voiceover from Hodgson as Andrew, as he bigs up his own achievements and har-hars at his own jokes.
These slower moments are intercut with snippets of his life set to song, from his rivalry with Charles (internet comedy king Munya Chawawa) to his romance with and subsequent split from a nasal Sarah Ferguson (Jenny Bede). The special opens on that Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis (a pitch-perfect Emma Sidi), where the royal launches into a number about how he’s “nailed it”, before worrying: “I can’t believe I said that, the thing about the sweat / Though you’d rather have a prince who’s dry than one who’s soaking wet.”
There’s a distinctly Fringe-y feel to the special, where clever lyrics sit alongside far sillier rhymes (“Can I speak like a businessman? Business, business, yes I can”). Unfortunately, the presence of Chawawa, a man who churns out God-tier comedy raps in a matter of minutes on Instagram, only serves to highlight where Hodgson’s lyrics lack his pace, density and bite.
Throughout the Channel 4 special, Hodgson makes it clear that the jokes being made are at the expense of Andrew and the wider royal family. When Andrew warbles he’s “the best looking royal”, the chorus echoes: “Yes, the most normal looking royal.” In the final scene, a more serious tone is adopted to address the severity of the allegations. Charles corners Andrew in a dark dungeon, strewn with headlines criticising the royal.
“You were friends with a paedophile. You brought a sexual predator to Balmoral,” he spits. But then, more comedy at the royals’ expense, as a picture of the real-life Charles and Jimmy Savile appear, and the new King desperately tries to turn the slides off. For some, a musical about Prince Andrew will never be appropriate. But if you’re going to do it, Hodgson’s work might just walk the line of acceptability.