Knights of the Rose

Created by Jennifer Marsden
Romance of the Rose Productions
Arts Theatre

Chris Cowley, Andy Moss, Ian Gareth-Jones, Oliver Savile Credit: Mark Dawson
Matt Thorpe, Ruben Van Keer, Adam Moss, Chris Cowley, Kelly Hampson, Bleu Woodward and Ian Gareth Jones Credit: Mark Dawson
Chris Cowley, Bleu Woodward, Katie Birtill, Kelly Hampson and Rebekah Lowings Credit: Mark Dawson

Although it is ostensibly a jukebox musical featuring hits to delight contemporary rockers, Knights of the Rose has an odd, quasi-academic twist.

Rather than being credited as its playwright, Jennifer Marsden, utilising expertise gained while qualifying for the legal bar, has compiled a book that is largely borrowed from literature, Chaucer and Shakespeare leading the way. As such, the spoken words, derived from close to 100 sources, become something of a mishmash created and delivered in a number of styles, some even her own.

The plot is very much constructed around the songs and follows Arthurian-style adventures of derring-do featuring knights of old from the House of the Rose, as they seek nubile wenches, wage wars and sing lusty songs whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The strongest potential for dramatic conflict occurs when a pair of brothers, sexy but wicked Sir Palamon and good but dull Sir Horatio, respectively played by Chris Cowley and Matt Thorpe, joust verbally about who deserves the delectable hand in marriage of the evening’s strongest singer, Katie Birtill as Princess Hannah. However, the prospective duel never comes to fruition, robbing the evening of a considerable amount of excitement.

Otherwise, it can be difficult to tell whether this story is intended to be serious or tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at the genre, following the footsteps of Spamalot. In any event, almost all of the plotting is pedestrian, building to a battle between our heroes and the Avalonians, who inexplicably look more like sci-fi warriors than human beings from the Middle Ages.

Director Racky Plews is at her best with the choreography, which is always competent and often much better, although much of the time it seems to be drawing on contemporary influences rather than those from mediaeval times. The same goes for the look, which incongruously tends to combine modern rock hairstyles, body language and even tattoos with lavish period costumes, with no expense spared.

Throughout a running time of around 2¾ hours, the cast members give their all to the cause. The impression one gets is that they have generally been chosen for their prodigious musical talents rather than acting ability, which is at best uneven.

The strength of this show lies in enthusiastically delivered songs such as “Holding Out for a Hero”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Everybody Hurts” and, in a particularly corny moment, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, without being too fussed about the frame on which they are hung. More surprisingly, there are also some other winning, rocky versions of songs from the classical repertoire composed by the likes of Henry Purcell and even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which particularly highlight the attractive voice of King Athelstan a.k.a. Adam Pearce.

Taking all of this together, the main constituency for Knights of the Rose will be slightly ageing rockers who can live with an undemanding storyline as long as they can wallow in live renditions of the hits of their youth.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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