Knights of the Rose, Arts Theatre

I’ve never seen a marketing campaign like it; Knights on horseback through Tower Bridge, Knights on horseback on the red carpet, the fact there was a red carpet and extensive array of press night goodies including a real red rose, badges and guitar plectrums.

Knights of the Rose comes from a female team of director and choreographer Racky Plews and writer Jennifer Marsden but it is masculine tale of Knights of the realm and their fair maidens. Oliver Savile and Chris Cowley’s Sirs Hugo and Palamon are after the hand of Disney-esque Princess Hannah (Katie Birtill) when Hugo wins it Palamon will stop at nothing to ensure he can win it back

Her lady in waiting Lady Isabel (Rebekah Lowings) finds herself torn between two men Sir Horatio (Matt Thorpe) and Prince Gawain (Andy Moss). Of course she chooses the Prince but will it end in hope or tragedy?

Who cares. As a story it is nonsense, that unashamedly takes its references from elsewhere (THREE pages of literary references in the programme from Shakespeare, to the Legend of King Arthur and Chaucer! )Serious and dull nonsense not helped by the Arts Theatre’s small stage and wobbling sets. Knight of the Rose feels cheap and rushed. Plews’ choreography leaves a lot to be desired despite the large and skilled ensemble numbers; a scene involving the calvary, complete with puppets, feels like a cheap knock off of War Horse and The Lion King.

There are also many underdeveloped female characters of wenches, ladies and princesses whose sole purpose is to satisfy our Knights of the Rose. Urgh.

Even if you aren’t here for the limited King Arthur-esque storyline of sex, love and betrayal we have rock songs that have seen this described as “the most epic musical ever!

Rock songs are quite theatrical and under a better musical director and director it might work but when the second half relies on Mozart and Irish folk songs it hardly feels like the Rock musical epic we were promised. Often the tunes feel slotted in; R.E.M’s Everybody Hurts when someone dies, Total Eclipse of the Heart when someone dies and the moment Savile’s Sir Hugo asked “Would you dance, if I asked you to dance” before busting into Hero by Enrique Inglesias, which was the first of many moments when the audience laughed at the show rather than with it.

When Sir Palamon got out an electric guitar I found myself looking around the auditorium to check it wasn’t just me seeing this hysterical creative decision.

There are some plus points; Dom Baker’s video design in a limited space works well, especially in battle scenes, there isn’t a bad performance, including from the live band but I cannot help but feel for the cast. I hope the laughter coming from audiences night after night doesn’t dent their spirits but it is by far the worst thing on at the West End right now.

If it was just laughable trash it would be fine but the all white cast in the medieval setting made me uncomfortable. As my companion said it felt like a show for “UKIPpers”, harking back to these all white periods of time. It is 2018, this show is a complete fantasy, cast some good people of colour before you alienate your audience even further.

Knights of the Rose is on until 26 August https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/knights-of-the-rose/

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