Knights of the Rose – a Medieval Rock Musical
A medieval tale brimming with romance, rock anthems and swashbuckling Knights comes to London’s West End in the form of Knights of the Rose. Corny, yes, silly, yes, PC, not really! This brand new epic, fun and somewhat baffling rock musical by Jennifer Marsden and directed and choreographed by Racky Plews has just opened at the Arts Theatre, an intimate, rather charming independent commercial theatre in the heart of the West End.
The story is written in old-fashioned ’Shakespearean” style language, with a collection of classic quotes taken from English literature patchworked together to tell the tale of a band of Herculean Knights fighting to defend their house and honour during the battle of the age. After ‘one hell of a battle’ the Knights return to find love and marriage, and of course awaiting them longingly are the young maidens who fall distinctly into the ‘princess’ or ‘wench’ category. The story continues in the vein of love, jealousy, friendship and underhand plans with some adversity thrown in to make for a true Jacobean tragedy.
Dialogue moves quickly into song in the form of many well-known rock anthems and ballads including a host of classics from Bon Jovi, Muse, Meat Loaf, REM, Bonnie Tyler and No Doubt played by a scorching live band. The songs are used to tell the tale and capture the mood of the moment, on many occasions, very effectively but sometimes without much nuance so that on a couple of instances some of the audience descended into giggles.
There is a strong cast of well-seasoned musical theatre performers with some great voices, although the score occasionally proved challenging. Particularly impressive were Bleu Woodward playing Emily and Katie Birtill as Princess Hannah. Ruben Van Keer made a wonderfully naive wannabe-knight-come-narrator and Oliver Savile was a suitably suave and gallant Knight in shining armour. The rather more sexy and rugged Knights with rippling biceps, curly locks or shaven heads were Andy Moss as Sir Gawain, Chris Powley as the villainous Sir Palamon and Matt Thorpe as Horatio.
Tim Deiling’s dramatic lighting design was at times very atmospheric, which along with projections and dry ice were especially effective in the battle scene. Racky Plews’s choreography produced some bold and sharply executed ensemble numbers, which were very entertaining.
The narrative isn’t exactly surprising, or subtle but it’s not meant to be. The production is a little unpolished and the set was a bit wobbly, in truth it deserves a bigger stage to imbue it with a sense of grandeur and make it into something a little more epic in keeping with its heroic theme. However what it lacks in polish and narrative it makes up for in pure fun, good light hearted rollicking fun!
It’s early days for this ambitious rock musical but it’s sure to please the romantics of this world as true love definitely wins through.
Knights of the Rose until 26th August at The Arts Theatre.
The Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport Street
London, WC2 H7JB