I’m not entirely sure what I watched at the Arts Theatre when I attended the press night for Knights Of The Rose, but it wasn’t what I signed up for. Andy Moss and Katie Birtill were so positive about the production when I interviewed them a couple of weeks prior to Knights Of The Rose opening, but did they genuinely think the show they were in was good?
Knights Of The Rose tells the tale of Price Gawain (Moss) and his fellow knights returning from war to find a bride, before going straight back off to war again. On paper I wasn’t sure that this production would work, but I was ready to be proved wrong. Unfortunately Knights Of The Rose failed to do that and there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. The book took the words of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Keats, with Jennifer Marsden pinning them together with her own work. And it was a waste of words, and bastardised the beautiful works of the great poets. It was so disjointed that I never felt for any of the characters, especially Sir Palamon (Chris Cowley) who had an air of character development which never quite materialised.
Whilst there were a couple of original songs, the majority of the score comprised of great rock-pop songs from the 80s and 90s. Favourites from Bon Jovi, No Doubt, Bonnie Tyler and REM were belted out on the stage, with Holding Out For A Hero being the best performance of the show, sang by Princess Hannah, Lady Isabel and Emily (Birtill, Rebekah Lowings, Bleu Woodward respectively). It was fun, and didn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately the juxtaposition of these great anthems against the prose in which the actors spoke just didn’t work.
It was everything that I hate about jukebox musicals. I definitely wrote better jukebox musicals when I was 10. The songs were shoehorned in, with one critic sat beside me muttering ‘for **** sake’ during the introduction of most of the second act songs. They were introduced in a comic fashion, but unintentionally. Their implementation was cringeworthy, with much of the audience laughing (I personally couldn’t laugh; I was far too embarrassed, especially for poor Oliver Savile having to speak the opening couple of lines of Hero by Enrique Inglesias) at moments when it was least appropriate – the main character’s death probably isn’t Marsden’s idea of a comedic moment. I’m not kidding when I say that this is the worst jukebox musical I have ever seen; it was just lazy.
Racky Plews’ direction and choreography was the only thing that was able to tie the production together, although the stage at the Arts Theatre is such a small space once you’ve added the ambitious set that a lot of the dancing look cramped. I also could’ve done without a sword resembling those you’d buy at Legoland being waved in my face every other number which really reduced the space for the choreography. Although the choreography was one of the few redeeming factors of the production, it wasn’t the best work I’ve seen from Plews who recently choreographed Summer Holiday.
This was my first ever West End press night, and they pulled out all the stops. With men on horseback, a red carpet closing off Great Newport Street, a rose on every seat and a few. Unfortunately the positivity ended there. The Arts Theatre is not a big theatre (it’s a theatre I have many opinions about which I will not include in this post), and with just a couple of people serving on the bar when lots of faces from the industry are offered free drinks, they couldn’t cope with the demand. West End press nights often start at 7pm to allow critics to disappear off to write their reviews ready to hit the news stands in the morning, and it also allows the cast and crew to drink that little bit earlier. But with the first act starting 20 minutes late and the interval overrunning by 5 minutes, it was almost pointless to invite people in for 7pm. I’m sure the overrun of the interval was due to people needed alcohol to even consider sitting through the second act.
With Bat Out Of Hell in the West End, Knights Of The Rose is clearly trying to piggyback off the success to no avail. The only redeeming factor of the production was the vocal performances, although by the second act even that wasn’t enough. The key was wrong for many of the actors. Without Ruben Van Keer’s smooth vocals, and narrative guidance as John, the audience definitely would’ve become lost in the plot that never really rounded up.
Knights Of The Rose definitely needed more of a workshop and an Off-West End run; it was far too ambitious to bring it straight into the West End – especially with a set that fell apart and looked like it was going to throw off the next actor to start on it (maybe spend less on fresh red roses for the audience and spend a little more on making the set a little more stable). I actually can’t believe that such a poor book has been allowed on a London stage to be honest. Let’s knock 20 minutes off each act and turn it into a one act show…and then burn the pages so that nobody ever has to perform it ever again.
Knights Of The Rose is a one star show with a four star cast, so credit must be given where credit is due. But I do think my two stars is a little generous if you took away the seasoned performers. My advice: see something else.