Knights of the Rose REVIEW: This rock musical is an epic fail | Theatre | Entertainment
Knights of the Rose REVIEW
A show based on Medieval courtly love with a dollop of Arthurian legend, occasional one-liners from Shakespeare and Chaucer, and a score ranging from Bonnie Tyler and Enrique Iglesias to church requiems.
It could have gone two ways. I warned my guest we were either in for a car crash or an unexpected delight.
This is no car crash. It is a four-line pile-up with an overturned tanker of toxic waste teetering on the edge of the reopened San Andreas fault.
This in no way reflects on a talented young cast who committed with extraordinary professionalism to one of the most woefully mounted and appallingly directed shows I have ever seen. I was left in awe of performers who did not waver, even as the laughter was audible from the front row to the back.
The show would have received one star but the cast alone bumped it up to two.
Knights of the Rose completely wastes a talented and committed cast
Particulary engaging is Oliver Savill as the heroic Hugo, mixing a beautiful voice with commendable conviction to a role which even calls for him to break into a woefully ill-conceived rock ballad over the body of his dead friend.
Kate Birtill shines as the golden princess Hannah and Ruben Van Keer sings as sweetly as he charmingly almost carries off the impossible job of exposition between jarring scene changes. Chris Cowley belts with the best of them as the snarling Palamon but not even he can pull off an inexplicable red electric guitar solo in the middle of the lamentable cod-Medieval plot.
Matt Thorpe is a delight as the irrepressible Horatio but it is painful to imagine what this cast could have done with a decent production.
Adam Pearce’s powerful bass also impresses as King Aethelstan in a strangely powerful moment of Latin ecclesiastical chanting. The funeral scene doesn’t work but the song was nice.
In fact, nothing works, starting with the main selling point – the music.
Juke box musicals always suffer from the central in-built dilemma. The minute an audience recognises a song, it will laugh in wry or delighted amusement. It is vital that any show acknowledges this and finds a way to work with it.
Unfortunately, the staging and direction lacks any sense of timing so there was frequent laughter but almost always at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.
When they sing Holding Out For A Hero, we were holding out for a decent plot and any sense of coherent direction. When they started No Doubt’s Don’t Speak.. well, the gags write themselves.
The cast prove remarkably capable of dredging up palpable emotion from a limp plot and laboured script, but asking them to sing The Long And Winding Road over a fallen prince just raised sniggers.
Sadly the creators of this show missed every golden opportunity and instead delivered a painful lesson in how not to write, mount or direct a musical, leaving the audience bewildered and bothered but not bewitched by the inconsistent tone and ludicrous premise.
Holding out for a hero? The audience was holding out for a decent show
The direction has no idea how to transition into the songs and leaves the audience stranded between confusion and hilarity. This is a show, especially in the first half, which is begging to break the fourth wall.
A knowing nod or wink to the audience would engage and involve, and release this awkward tension. Instead it plays it straight but results in farce.
No other aspect of the direction works and the second half deteriorates along with the song choices into a bizarre attempt to actually create some level of Shakesperean drama and pathos. The Bard would have been horrified. But then, he would have known how to fix it.
The show’s ambition should be commended, especially for a fringe theatre, and constraints can make a virtue out of necessity. Instead, the lighting is unhelpful and uninspired, and the half-hearted costume design lazily mixes bargain bin period costume with modern footwear. Tearing one sleeve off every knight’s costume is not edgy or creative. It’s naff.
Where was the money spent? The understandably limited budget was probably blown on the dark and dreary, creaky and claustrophic set which looms over everything but provides no pleasure for audience or cast.
Knights of the Rose
The cramped remaining stage area is either too bare for certain scenes or leaves no space for the poorly thought-out, am-dram battle-dance sections which are messy and unconvincing.
An opening moment with horse-head models creates a briefly pleasing visual and a Bohemian Rhapsody rip-off with illuminated faces is effective but these flashes of creativity are few and far between.
The cast constantly provide intriguing glimpses of what might have been but the whole show is a long and winding road that should have been a light-footed romp. Knights of the Rose simply fails to rise to the occasion. It’s like Horrible Histories without the wit and whimsy. Or the history.
Spamalot memorably and deliriously showed how to mix Medieval and modern with a “bunch of British Knights, prancing ’round in wooly tights.”
Knights of the Rose should have been left in the Dark Ages.
KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE IS PLAYING AT THE ARTS THEATRE UNTIL AUGUST 26
Box Office: 020 7836 8463 website: www.artstheatrewestend.co.uk