Had you ever sat down to a medieval banquet there’s a good chance you would have been served ‘Cockentrice’, a popular meal that saw different bits of several animals spliced together to create an entirely new beast. The thought of tucking in to this concoction probably either disgusts or intrigues you, but serve it up today and it would certainly make for an interesting talking point. Knights Of The Rose is the musical theatre equivalent of Cockentrice, writer Jennifer Marsden seems to have taken every single ingredient in the recipe and thrown them all in.
This new musical, directed by Racky Plews, is a bizarre mixture of Shakespearian prose, rock anthems and Game of Thrones. It’s hard to know where to start! We’ll go with the music, it is after all the strongest part of the production, and will no doubt be the biggest draw for audiences. True to form there’s a bit of everything, from Bon Jovi to No Doubt, with some Bonnie Tyler and a Knights Templar chant thrown in.
Despite the eclectic mix, the delivery is consistently strong throughout. There are some tremendous performances from Andy Moss (Prince Gawain), Katie Birtill (Princess Hannah) and Chris Cowley (Sir Palaman). Matt Thorpe gives a particularly spine tingling rendition of ‘Always’, while our narrator Ruben Van Keer (John) gives each of his numbers a beautiful tenderness. Oliver Saville (Sir Hugo) leads the cavalry in terms of performance, delivering astounding vocals in both the rock and ballad numbers.
The plot is typically what you would expect from a piece of this era; the King’s Knights go in to battle is probably all you need to know. Much of the text is built up from literary references; Shakespeare, Chaucer and Charlie Chaplin mixed with Rabbie Burns and Tenyson. There could easily have been much less of this patchwork quilt of verbose text, as you could practically feel the audience willing the cast to get to the next song. The cast deliver their lines with such fervent passion, all while they thrust flimsy swords enthusiastically around a wobbly set. It would be a fabulous parody, but that’s not what it’s meant to be.
The text was apparently written before the songs were selected, and that makes sense, as many of the numbers feel awkwardly shoehorned in, like an episode of Homes Under The Hammer the audience groan and guffaw as an obviously planted line segues in to the next tune. That’s not to say the Knights of The Rose soundtrack isn’t good, quite the contrary, it would probably make my ideal Spotify playlist (minus the chanting). I did struggle watching a medieval Queen mourning a family member while singing The Calling’s ‘Wherever You Will Go’, even with Rebecca Bainbridge’s powerful performance it just felt…odd.
Aside from the music, the overall aesthetic is striking. Video projection is used to great effect, Dom Baker’s design creating wall sconce’s through to rain-soaked battlefields. And that battle scene does look fantastic, as puppetry is mixed with both the video and Tim Deiling’s dynamic lighting.
Jukebox musicals tend to whip the audience in to a frenzy by the final number, Knights of the Rose doesn’t quite achieve that and finishes flat, though the audience are certainly appreciative of the hard-working cast. Much like Cockentrice you won’t know if this is for you until you’ve tried it, and even then, you might still be unsure. Perhaps this is a production that needs an open mind, and if you can provide that, Knights of the Rose will probably give you a night at the theatre you’re unlikely to forget, whatever the reasons.