Knights of the Rose

Knights of the Rose
Knights of the Rose
The Arts Theatre, London
29th June – 26th August 2018

by Jenna Johnston

Knights of the Rose opened at The Arts Theatre in London this week and the adventure had begun before I’d arrived at the theatre. As well as the legion of posters I’d seen on tubes and across London in the run-up to the opening, throughout the day, knights wielding electric guitars riding on horseback across London Bridge had been popping up on my Twitter feed. As I made my way through the crowds outside the theatre, these rock-and-roll chevaliers were on the red carpet greeting the audience. The atmosphere was fantastic and only continued inside with rose-themed cocktails, garland-decorated bar, a red rose on every seat, guitar picks and badges. All this fabulous fanfare created high expectations for an evening of epic flamboyance.

The centre of the story is the family of the House of Rose and promises a ‘heroic and romantic tale’, and no sooner has the story been set than Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory roars in performed by, what unmistakeably looks like, a boy band with swords. The clash of Shakespeare and power ballads had begun and it was bizarre and glorious. As the story is revealed, the ladies of the House of Rose have been waiting for years for the safe return of their men from battle and on their arrival home these lovers, friends and bitter jealousies are reunited. This may feel like a story you’ve heard before, and it’s not exactly, but it is a mélange of a little bit of lots of stories that you’ve definitely heard before.

The effect is a strange one, I found myself digging into the recesses of my secondary school English and trying to identify those so-close-oh-I-know-I-know-it quotes, and then, upon recognising the words from Taming of the Shrew, the feeling of pure victory you only get when you’ve successfully answered a question on University Challenge. The aim of Knights of the Rose creator, Jennifer Marsden, was to write a homage to the classical bards, including Shakespeare, Marlowe and Chaucer, and this is palpable, albeit clumsily conspicuous in places.

The soundtrack is everything that the production promises and some of the best, nostalgic favourites make you want to dramatically throw out your arms and sing-along. The costumes are fittingly bejewelled and, while the cast are talented, there is an obtrusive sense of cabaret throughout. The chorus ensembles were perhaps the most successful, there was one moment when I thought the soldiers were going to break into a routine from Magic Mike, and it is these fun, tongue-in-cheek elements that are one of the show’s greatest credits. While it is not slick, it is immensely entertaining and there is an elemental joy in watching a series of 80s music videos being played out on stage.

However, the plot becomes increasingly unfulfilling. The narrative and characters were entirely one-dimensional and predictable. While I appreciated that this was a bow to revered writers from history, by taking elements of these tropes and not doing anything unique with them meant that it both did not live up to the inspirations as well as being a disappointment as a standalone story. There is a great feeling of the renaissance of medieval fantasy, such as Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, however, it was frustrating that the opportunity was missed to make this original or contemporary. The lessons of morality, honour and romance are stereotypical, cut and dry and it definitely does not pass the Bechdel Test. It would have been more exciting and enjoyable to see a production that reinvigorated and modernised some of our most beloved tales, rather than creating a mediocre patchwork of them to a background of Bonnie Tyler.

Overall, Knights of the Rose is a perfectly fun, crowd-pleasing show. The incorporation of the songs into the narrative was smoothly effected, particularly in comparison to some other more tenuous musical plots for the sake of fitting in the soundtrack (I’m looking at you Bat Out of Hell). This is a tale of love, war and family, it is an ode to poetry and theatre of old, rock music and power-ballads, it’s a fascinating mash-up of genres and inspirations and they’re all tangible. It is not a serious piece of theatre, it’s a glittering, raunchy, entertaining and a lively night of ‘When Meatloaf and Celine Dion Auditioned for Parts in a Midsummer Night’s Dream’.


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