Union Theatre, London – until 15 July 2017
Tim Rice’s comical musical set during the Crusades is at times chaotic but Sasha Regan makes sure it is always entertaining. There is no denying that this musical is an oddity. Based in the Middle Ages and the Crusades, Tim Rice’s rarely seen musical is given a lively if occasionally over the top revival thanks to Sasha Regan’s entertaining production.
Blondel is an unsuccessful court musician who is forced to step up when King Richard leaves England for a quest taking him to the Middle East, leaving his brother the evil Prince John in charge. But in addition, the King has taken his beloved Fiona along with him, forcing Blondel to go on an adventure to save his King and Fiona.
Even just reading the plot it does seem like it is the type of story that Monty Python would put together and as you watch this increasingly flamboyant and over the top production it becomes even more so. The characters, the situations as well the reference to modern (2017) way of life, suggests a show about history that isn’t supposed to be taken seriously.
After a bit of a slow start in which musically and the sense of humour is laid on a bit too much (with some jokes being repeated at various times), Blondel and its characters start to grow on the audience that by the interval you can’t help but root for them all – despite all of the silliness involved.
Musically, with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Stephen Oliver and Matthew Pritchard, there are some lovely numbers including ‘Least of My Troubles’ and ‘Laundry Lament’ which are perhaps the some of the strongest pieces and the most simplest that are elegant and heartfelt. But others songs are a little bit overwhelming and don’t add anything to the story at all – for example ‘Call it a Draw’ and ‘The Ministry of Feudal Affairs’ just don’t add anything to the scene which couldn’t have been said as dialogue.
Due to the over-the-top style of the production, it doesn’t feel that anything is sincere including Blondel’s relationship with Fiona or King Richard’s anger with Prince John and so this makes it a difficult show to emotionally engage with.
But it has to be said there are some strong performances to be found in the form of Connor Arnold’s charming performance as the endearing but perhaps not the sharpest tool in the box Blondel , Jessie May as the modern and feisty Fiona and James Thackeray as the selfish and spoilt Prince John – which only occasionally slips into pantomime villain territory.
While on the surface it is fun and entertaining, it feels as though due to the number of songs the show does outstay its welcome slightly. But it is a lack of emotional engagement and not enough character development that really lets this production down.