Knights of the Rose – Arts Theatre, London

Creator: Jennifer Marsden

Director and choreographer: Racky Plews

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Perhaps it is inevitable that Game of Thrones: The Musical, will hit our stages one day, but, in the meantime, we have to make do with this fusion of classic rock anthems and a tale of heroism, bloodletting and tepid romance, set in a medieval kingdom where knights brandish swords, shields and electric guitars.

The creator of Knights of the Rose, Jennifer Marsden, is, we are told, a barrister, so we have to take it as read that there is no specific law against putting a show like this in front of an audience. Whether or not there should be, becomes more debatable as the evening progresses. The House of the Rose (no specified colour) rules over the land, headed by King Aethelstone (Adam Pearce, booming like a miniature Brian Blessed) with his mild-mannered Queen Matilda (Rebecca Bainbridge) at his side. Their son, Prince Gawain (Andy Moss) is absent waging war while their daughter, Princess Hannah (Katie Birtill) loiters at home doing silly things in the company of other maidens, all wearing low-cut dresses, with long, straight hair draped over their shoulders. No cliché is left unused.

The Knights return home in glory, hang around taverns waving their tankards and talking bawdily, woo their women and return to war. In short, Marsden’s plot is Much Ado About Nothing without the comedy, crossed with Henry IV pt1 without the weight of history. Sub-Shakespearean verse, much of it ludicrous, goes into the mix. The dramatic temperature rises when Sir Hugo (Oliver Savile) and the shady Sir Palamon (Chris Cowley) compete for Hannah’s hand and the lowly, un-knighted John (Ruben Van keer) acts as a kind of chorus, linking the story together.

There is fun to be had in guessing which familiar lyric daft lines of dialogue are leading into. When the audience guesses correctly, hilarity ensues, but most of the laughs in the show seem to come when Marsden would have least wanted them. The music is loud, amplified just enough to drown out the noise from the overworked air conditioner in this shabby old auditorium. Rock hits such as Holding Out For a Hero, Blaze of Glory, Addicted to Love, Total Eclipse of the Heart, and so on, follow each other in quick succession, but it all becomes too much and, when the company renders REM’s Everybody Hurts, everybody agrees. A dash of Mozart near the end comes as a welcome relief.

Director/choreographer Racky Plews has a decent track record with musicals and she does what she can with the material to hand, using Diego Pitarch’s split-level set imaginatively. Her staging of the fight scenes is exciting, made more so by Tim Deiling’s dramatic lighting effects. The singing is also strong, with Cowley standing out. and Mark Crossland’s seven-piece band does all that could be asked of it. Yes, the show has plusses, but their worth feels diminished when they are placed in a context as inept as this.

This cacophonous calamity is at its best when it wanders into “so bad it’s good” territory, but, sadly, it does not stay there long enough and the show drags out to become a very long evening indeed. At least its creator can find some consolation in having a day job to go back to.

Runs until 26 August 2018 | Image: Mark Dawson

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A cacophonous calamity

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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