Arts Theatre, London – until 26 August 2018
Take a group of hunky men and sexy women, all five-star West End voices, throw them into an atrociously bad Arthurian turkey, whose risible dialogue is beefed up a few bastardised Shakespearean quotes, and add a dodgy set – and you come somewhere near to describing the appalling Knights of the Rose which has opened at London’s Arts Theatre.
This show should have been a shoo-in for a summer blockbuster. It has a playlist that any other jukebox musical would die for. Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, Muse and a bit of Mozart are some of the treats on offer but the music flounders amid a ridiculous and derivative plot that is so absurd that I first thought that it was being ironic. Perhaps it is a comedy? But, no, the dire cheesy lines came thick and fast. The cast looks almost too embarrassed to say them.
With plastic swords and rubber mezzanine set – complete with safety rails – that wobbled as it lurched from one scene change to another, the only credit to come out of this mess of a musical is the singing.
Chris Cowley (Wicked/Les Mis), all kohl-eyes and moody swagger, glowers for England as the rotter, errant knight Sir Palamon, who is determined to steal his best friend’s intended, the ravishingly beautiful Princess Hannah. And Oliver Savile (another Wicked expat/Phantom/Mamma Mia!) is his nemesis, Sir Hugo, who woos with poetry and peace.
But at least the pair can be relied upon to do the business with the rock songs – even if Cowley (or rather director, Racky Plews) pushes it too far by performing one song with a Ye Olde electric guitar. Very authentic.
The entire cast is terrific at the big stadium anthems like ‘Blaze of Glory’, ‘Bed Of Roses’ and ‘Holding Out For A Hero” but they have lost the battle with the script.
Some of the actors’ lines had last night’s audience in stitches. No doubt playwright, Jennifer Marsden, thought she was being clever by taking snatches from literary classics – Chaucer and Shakespeare are royally plundered, their beautiful poetry rehashed and reassembled – to create this Medieval fantasy romance.
Perhaps she thought the London stage – and the 21st century – was ready for bloodthirsty knights, pumped up with testosterone and machismo, posturing and growling while they have their way with the serving wenches.
Certainly the emancipation of women is knocked back a few centuries with her pretty (useless) damsels in distress looking for the warrior of their dreams.
Knights Of The Rose belongs in a hotel theme night or cabaret. It isn’t good enough, by any stretch of the imagination, for a West End stage.
The woman sitting next to me muttered that it would have been better to have had a karaoke night for 1980s rock and ditch the entire, embarrassing, cringe-worthy production.
I had to agree.
There are a few well choreographed moments.
The opening of the second act is atmospheric as the knights go into battle with puppet horse heads, but, sadly, the remainder of the show is then overcome with mawkish sentimentality.
The music,initially upbeat and engaging in the first act, moves to predominantly ballads, with a smattering of classical, and the story runs out of energy.
Running at the Arts Theatre until August 26.
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