Knightmare Live: Level 2

The Lyric Theatre, London
Monday November 3rd, 2014

by Michael Anderson

On stage: a helmet and leather satchel on an oak chest, backed up by 2D masonry and a general air of high-end Sixth Form history project.

Enter: a man. Bearded, in tabard. He speaks.

“Welcome, watchers of illusion, to the castle of confusion…”

Never before have such ominously cod-fantasy words been greeted by these paroxysms of joy and unfettered delight. Well, not for a good 20 years, at least. The speaker is Treguard – guide, narrator, and moral arbiter in this lovingly low-rent stage production of the ITV childhood classic: Knightmare Live.

In the case of 95% of the audience in the packed Lyric Theatre, ‘childhood’ roughly equates to being around 10 or 12 years old at some point during the show’s ’87 to ’94 run, and the innocence of which has long since evaporated to leave disposable income and a vague prelapsarian nostalgia for everything Knightmare represents: four TV channels, blocky computer graphics, permed hair, shellsuits, BFFs…

The stage show is not for the uninitiated (“not entry-level stuff”, Lord Fear mused) and nor, it follows, is the review. Suffice to say, the TV show saw a trio of friends remotely guide a temporarily-blinded fourth teammate through a series of logic puzzles and medieval mind-teasers, set against delightful blue-screen VR, replete with face-painted wall-monsters and quests and riddles and keys. It was, in short, amazing.

All of this has been up/down-graded to a lovingly shambolic live version, in which one ‘member of the public’ (we witness no selection process) is guided through resoundingly non-VR scenarios by two guest stand-up comics, a ploy you imagine worked to far greater effect during the show’s stint on the fringe; on the final night of a post-Edinburgh tour, the pair at the Lyric are amusing but anonymous. Far funnier are the comedians behind the revival, Paul Flannery and Tom Bell, making strong impressions in what amount to the lead roles of Treguard and Lord Fear, vying for the life of our protagonist Matt as he out-riddles, out-manoeuvres and generally out-Knightmares any challenge thrown his way.

Any attempt to recreate the original’s limited tension and gameplay is wisely jettisoned in favour of a controllable running time and age-appropriate jokes. Michaela Strachan, Neil Buchanan and Pat Sharp come in for various levels of ribbing, while extremely amusing tangents into Doctor Who add real kinship between performers and audience. Forget about the fourth wall; Bell and Flannery don’t even bother with the first, second or third – audience members provide props quickly integrated into the narrative; Treguard amiably kills time between scene changes by asking for anecdotes from successful/unsuccessful TV applicants, way back when.

The general sense of shared memories and bearded in-jokes is deliriously topped by a standing ovation following a sensational guest appearance by the original Treguard, Hugo Myatt. The sight of Lord Fear taking photos through the scenery as Treguards old and new exchanged deep-voiced plot contrivances is an apt end to a real flashback of an evening – fuzzy, shambolic, and hugely enjoyable.

Byker Grove: The Musical next year?

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