Knights of the Rose; Arts Theatre, London.
Reviewed 5th July 2018
Knights of the Rose is a brand new British Musical by Jennifer Marsden and directed and choreographed by Racky Plews. It’s a story of love, betrayal and sacrifice as the Knights of the Rose defend their house and honour during the battle of the Age. The show features a playlist of legendary ballads and classic rock anthems including Bon Jovi, Meatloaf, Bonnie Tyler, No Doubt and many more.
It is refreshing to see something new hit the West End and this storyline, set in an age of chivalry and knights, is something completely different to other musicals at the moment. The actual plot is straight forward and albeit slightly predictable but builds well to create an interesting story. The rhyming ‘Shakespeare’ style dialogue makes this musical different to others and the characters themselves are unique and well placed in this show.
However, Knights of the Rose is fundamentally flawed by using a song list of purely recognisable songs. Unfortunately, despite the drama and emotion taking place on stage a lot of the songs were met with ripples of laughter amongst the audience – therefore diminishing the quality of the action onstage and detracting from the story.
Adam Langston’s arrangements of the music is actually very clever and most of the songs fit well with the narrative due to their lyrics and sentiment but because the audience are familiar with them they almost feel gimmicky and, at times, feel shoe-horned in. Perhaps having an original score or a mixture of new music and well-known hits would be better and help the audience to engage with the characters and developments onstage?
Direction by Racky Plews is good. It allows for good character development. The plot itself is new and clever. At times however, the production does feel slightly pantomime in style and seems unsure of its place or genre. Things in the second act definitely improve and the actors are given the chance to shine.
All of the cast are very talented and the vocals on display are extremely good. The songs are performed carefully and none of the actors sound like they are straining or screeching, despite the rock style songs. Most of the songs are solos but the rare moments of duet or group numbers are excellent. In particular the acapella version of The Parting Glass and the dramatic song Is Nothing Sacred are brilliant. It is in these scenes where the cast really shine.
Oliver Saville and Chris Cowley as Sir Hugo and Sir Palamon manage to steal the show in almost every scene playing the hero and villain. Cowley’s death scene in particular is outstanding. Matt Thorpe also delivers brilliant vocals as Sir Horatio.
The costumes, designed by Diego Pitarch, are extremely detailed and cleverly have an added touch of sparkle. This is a musical after all. The set, also designed by Pitarch, is clever, albeit very wobbly, and easily transforms the stage with minimal fuss. Again, the set is detailed and given the small stage at this venue allows for great sight lines. Lighting by Tim Deiling further adds to the drama, especially during the tense, emotional scenes.
Racky Plews is well known for her choreography and whilst the choreography in this show does not stand out it is certainly in keeping with the story. The fight scenes however are executed extremely well and mixed in with the dramatic lighting and interesting staging are a highlight of the show.
This is a show that doesn’t seem quite sure of itself. On one hand it could be seen as a slightly cheesy jukebox musical but on the other hand it can be seen as something new and unchartered in the current theatre world. Coming away the audience seem to feel similar. Whilst most left smiling and having had a great night out, some also looked slightly confused as to what they had just seen. With a clearer intent and direction and some changes to the songs Knights of the Rose could become a brilliant musical. As it stands, it is slightly confusing. It will no doubt divide audiences so why not take the time to check it out and make up your own mind whilst its playing at the Arts Theatre, London?
This review was originally written for and published by LondonTheatre1.