L-R Chris Cowley, Andy Moss, Ian Gareth Jones, Oliver Savile. Photo: Mark Dawson
Rock musicals come in many guises, from enormous extravaganzas like Bat Out of Hell to smaller but equally successful shows like Return to the Forbidden Planet. What they almost all have in common is a knowing willingness to not take themselves too seriously. Knights of the Rose is rather different then, combining a wide range of music, large numbers of literary quotes and an Arthurian narrative.
With the range of popular music used, the medieval setting, the portentous language, the glittery costumes and the knowing laughter from the audience when the next song lyric is signalled in the dialogue, it sometimes seems as if pantomime has come early this year. The Knights go off to battle at Avalon, the Arthurian equivalent of Valhalla, although this must be a different Avalon, just as the Prince Gawain here is not the Sir Gawain who was the nephew of Arthur, and this is also not the historical King Athelstan…
It’s all sung and danced very well by a talented young cast however, with no weak links among them, and backed by a tight and effective (if largely invisible) 4 piece band with some of the cast also playing at times. It’s a mostly male show although the female members of the cast get more opportunities in the second half, with Rebekah Lowings particularly effective in her solo Total Eclipse of the Sun. The narrative is played against a set of medieval walls and battlements with a nifty line in swords as staircase bannisters, and a time-shifted twentieth century dressing table for the Princess.
Adam Pearce provides an impressive double as a cheery landlord and an imperious King Athelstan, managing to out-act his natty floral skirt-tunic which would be much more regal if it was longer. He also delivers the most unusual musical choice of the evening, when a late shift away from Bon Jovi, Black Sabbath and Meatloaf finds us listening to Purcell, Mozart and a medieval chant. It’s that kind of show.
As young John, Ruben van Keer is convincingly gauche and rather more distinctive than some of the other knights. Andy Moss is a vigorous Prince Gawain and Chris Cowley’s Sir Palamon does his best to create something different with his character, even when he has to speak in rhyme. He also finds a bright red guitar behind the nearest medieval tower at one point, in true pantomime tradition, and has a death scene to match that of Pyramus, standing with a dagger in his heart which he eventually removes himself before meeting his demise.
As Sir Hugo, Oliver Savile use his astonishing vocal range to good effect, and Matt Thorpe brings a glint of satire and lightness of touch to his portrayal of Sir Horatio, and is less encumbered with thees and thous to deliver, an approach which might have helped the whole performance.
The script, sometimes sounding like the spoken version of the Oxford Book of Quotations, is written – or selected – by Jennifer Marsden, billed as creator of the show. As Director and Choreographer, Racky Plews has produced a pacy, vigorous performance, with some impressive muscular choreography for the opening and closing numbers. The Battle of Avalon, one of the sections for which Adam Langston has written music, works well too, with an impressive number of swords being brandished on a small stage.
She also chose to use puppet horse heads for the journey to the battle, a brave decision after Equus and War Horse have shown us what is possible and how important the legs of a horse are in portraying its essence. However, the work of Puppet Director Hal Chambers has ensured that this is also a very effective sequence, not overdone and well portrayed through gauze and haze.
L-R Ian Gareth Jones, Chris Cowley, Andy Moss, Tom Bales, Matt Thorpe, Oliver Savile. Photo: Mark Dawson