Backstairs Billy earns its crown as a hilarious royal comedy

Diving deep into Elf the Musical: A merry tale of Christmas, family, and laughter

Anya Ryan, 28th November 2023

If a play that’s fit for a Queen is on order - then Backstairs Billy might be just that. Storming into the West End is this new show by Marcelo Dos Santo, which tells the story of the close friendship between the Queen Mother and her page, Billy, who came to work for her at the age of 15. It is wildly funny and has one great one-line after another. It doesn’t claim to be historically accurate - in fact, it can be safely assumed that the contents of this play are more rooted in fiction. But, despite it all being slightly bizarre in subject matter, it is still an easy and joyful night out.

As the title character William ‘Billy’ Tallon, Luke Evans is wonderfully camp, self-assured and savage. He’s been in the Royal Household for 30 years and has grown accustomed to the Queen Mother’s favour. Inside the lavishly decorated walls of Clarence House, the Queen turns her nose up at overcooked eggs and sits beside corgis with wagging tails - but with Billy, she can’t help but let out a smile. Playing the Queen Mother and channelling her royal demeanour is the established actress Penelope Wilton - and she could not be more perfect. Straight-talking yet always polite, she feels suitably forceful as she enters a scene.

But, it is the dialogue that goes on without her that earns the biggest laughs of the evening. With so many years in service, Billy feels able to push boundaries. He secretly pours alcohol into the glasses of teetotallers to make the conversation flow better, at night he sneaks in rent boys to the palace’s drawing rooms. He naughtily teases the more straightlaced boss, Mr Kerr who thinks those working in Clarence House should have a little more decorum. But Billy is not worried - he’s earned his right to rebel. After all, he is one of two Queens in this palace.

Christopher Oram’s design is laced with luxurious realism. There are flowers in embellished vases, perfectly printed wallpaper decorating the stage’s walls and ornaments that look like they’d break the bank stand on wooden cabinets. The palace staff are dressed appropriately in uniform, while the Queen Mother dons powdery florals and patterns. All the actors - including the supporting cast, give first-rate performances - particularly Emily Barber as an overwhelmed Soap Actress coming to visit the Queen Mother at her request.

While it might not be the most insightful piece of theatre, it is certainly a bit of fun. Grab some Champagne darling, this is quite the royal outing.