Knights of the Rose at the Arts Theatre
The new London musical, Knights of the Rose, answers the question no one is asking. What do we get when we cross Shakespeare with Chaucer, Blake, Marlowe and Keats, as well as a host of classic rock songs, with that guy who used to be in Hollyoaks?
This is the story of heroic knights returning home victorious after years of war and finding love. But they must leave once more for the most glorious battle.
Knights of the Rose is epically ambitious. It pieces together quotes, characters and narratives from a huge variety of classic British literature. The knights speak to their lovers in well-known poetic verse and give speeches that lift lines directly from some of Shakespeare’s best works. And then everyone sings a famous rock song. But what has been created is Frankenstein’s Monster. It takes the right form, it functions, it lives. But there is something wrong and off-putting about it.
The thinking behind some of the song and quote choices feels shallow. While the words mostly fit in where they are placed, cultural context is ignored. Just one of many examples: when a death occurs, it is immediately followed by a rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, some of the lyrics of which sort of fit. But the track is famously about a toxic relationship, which is a completely different sentiment. Furthermore, today the song is thought of as a pinnacle of cheese music. So there is an uncontrollable burst of laughter from the audience when it comes on, during what is meant to be the most tragic moment of the play. It’s almost as if it is parodying itself.
The musical’s saving grace is its cast, each a pillar of flawless acting and powerful singing. In fact, the song performances are truly great to watch. Surrounded by a good-sized budget and a great band, the actors and the razzmatazz are almost enough to distract from the confused material.
Knights of the Rose is big and epic but it just doesn’t fit together well enough, hanging its hat on the glory of other works without producing anything of its own to deserve them. Ultimately, the opening number, [We’re going down in a] Blaze of Glory, really does sum up the rest of the show.
Photo: Mark Dawson
Knights of the Rose is at the Arts Theatre from 29th June until 26th August 2018. Book your tickets here.