The sequel to last year's 'Johnson and Boswell: Late But Live' retreats further back in pseudohistory to the distinctly less Scottish plains of Queen Elizabeth's sixteenth-century court, once again starring comedians Miles 'Balamory' Jupp and Simon Munnery respectively, the latter affecting an aloof persona that will be familiar to fans of his earlier character The League Against Tedium, only somewhat more xenophobic in true Elizabethan spirit.
Raleigh introduces himself to the audience, which he has gathered in the University of Edinburgh's Reid Concert Hall (tastefully renamed the Cow Barn for one month of the year) to witness what he presumes will be the frigid Queen's overdue proposal of marriage. He spends the first Act or so generally celebrating his own greatness, aided by a slide projector which, along with a smoke machine and three distinct instruments played elsewhere in the show, elevate this performance above the typical low-budget Fringe standard. By the time the Queen arrives, she does so in fittingly grand style that has to be seen to be appreciated.
This is an accessible, yet still distinctly odd play from one of the writers of 'Jerry Springer: The Opera,' and I suppose the first notable thing about it is that it almost entirely avoids comparison to Blackadder II. Anyone who came expecting drama will likely be disappointed that the plot events are essentially there to supply a loose structure for the historical double act's exciting, musical and blindly racist routines, and while there are still accessible jokes about contemporary topics such as John Gaunt (and at least two gags about pants), writer Stewart Lee ensures it's grounded in its historical context with corporate appearances by Willy Kempe and celebrations of the novel potato. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's educational, but it's likely you'll come out knowing more about the rubbish Devonshire town Budleigh Salterton than you did before, or necessarily wanted to.
In the style of Lee and Munnery's previous collaborations such as 'Pea Green Boat,' effective use is made of live music, and the show features some highly memorable set-pieces as the drama unfolds in Queen Elizabeth's court and the recesses of Raleigh's imagination. It's to its credit that the show feels rather short as a standard festival hour, and would benefit from an extension for its inevitable tour following the festival. It's also impressive that it manages to exert such mainstream appeal, being created by a group of artistically conscious comedians who can be frustratingly obscure when they want to be.
Elizabeth and Raleigh are probably the best sixteenth-century double-act at this year's Fringe. Spaniards need not attend.
'Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late But Live' is on at the Underbelly's Cow Barn off Bristo Square, from 31st July to 25th August 2008 (not 13th) at 10:35pm, lasting one hour. Tickets cost £11 - £13.50 (£10 - £12.50 concessions).
Potatoes, tobacco, Elizabethan dance, cross-dressing, xenophobia and laughs galore from the team behind 2007's Johnson And Boswell: Late But Live.