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Roll Over Beethoven review at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – ‘garish rock’n’roll Hamlet’

Niall Kerrigan in Roll Over Beethoven at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. Photo: Robert Day
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It’s unlikely that many were clamouring for a rock ‘n roll musical rewrite of Hamlet with a happy ending, yet here it is, exploding on stage in a migraine of chintz, colour and song.

Writer and director Bob Eaton, former artistic director at the Belgrade, returns to the Coventry theatre with Roll Over Beethoven after having captured the city’s Two Tone nostalgia with Three Minute Heroes. But while that musical was so specific to Coventry in the late 1970s, Roll Over Beethoven trades on a vague 1950s collective memory, scaffolded by dad jokes, Shakespeare puns and broad cultural references.

Garish sets and poorly animated video backdrops torpedo the production values, and there’s a self aware, pantomime quality to the whole show. In one moment, Johnny Hamlet, played by Michael Fletcher, even turns to the stalls and jokes that he’ll end up mad by the end of Act II. It’s not so much hanging a gun on the wall as pointing it at the audience and daring them to move.

But move they do. Toes tap, hands clap and by the end they’re up dancing, because Eaton’s musical is carried with charm and confidence by a powerfully talented musical cast. Pastiche rock‘n’roll tunes are outfitted with new lyrics and, while none are instant classics, there are some standout belters, particularly Beethoven tribute Ludwig Van B, a decent Chuck Berry rehash.

Roll Over Beethoven is optimistic, unapologetic fun. Whether you’ll want an apology probably depends on how much you like Shakespeare.

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Enthusiastically performed, if loud and garish, rock‘n'roll Hamlet