Knights of the Rose Review

Arts Theatre  – until 26 August


My first draft of this review was simply 3 letters and a question mark, but I have a word count to meet. Before I start, let me stress that I love a good jukebox musical, so I REALLY wanted Knights of the Rose to be great. Sadly, this show is the perfect example of jumping on the bandwagon after the phenomenal success of previous rock musicals – but the wheels have fallen off at high speed and this particular wagon is careering over a cliff.

Set in Arthurian England, the plot centres around the House of Rose, whose knights have been away fighting for years and return to their ladies. Then there’s a war with King Mordred of Avalon. Yes – you read that correctly. One of the love triangles in the show is inspired by Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, and there’s a legitimate/illegitimate/cousin thing going on as well.

Creator Jennifer Marsden has either read a lot of books or has a huge dictionary of quotations; either way, she has used as many borrowed lines as possible in her script. There are three pages of literary references in the programme – that’s THREE PAGES! – from Omar Khayyam to Wordsworth, via Shakespeare and Chaucer. It feels as if quotes were put in a lucky dip and drawn out at random for use, as they sit so mangled and awkwardly in the script. And if you’re going to include your own attempts at verse amongst such stellar literature, then it has to be better than the corny doggerel that serves as narration in this show. Throwing in copious thees, thous and alases doth not, alas, improve clunky verse.

The whole thing is taken so seriously and is so po-faced that the musical numbers are ridiculously out of place. A knight is wooing his princess with verilys and forsooths and suddenly asks “Would you dance, if I asked you to dance?” and probably says a few more lines before the music for “Hero” begins, but it’s inaudible over the laughter from the audience. A death scene turns to comedy gold as a knight turns mournfully to the audience and starts singing “He ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother”, and the list goes on. Incongruous lines from Shakespeare shoehorned into scenes begin to draw groans and stifled laughter as the show progresses and it finally dawns on the audience that this is NOT a comedy. The lack of diversity on stage will probably be a big talking point, but it is shocking that a female writer could create such insipid female characters.

The talented cast are committed and soldier on through this quagmire of verbal sludge. They are much too good for this show, with the fantastic Oliver Savile, Chris Cowley, Ruben Van keer and Matt Thorpe managing to rise above the content, even with the misjudged pitching of the musical numbers. Poor Cowley has to sing his big villain solo after being seemingly transported to a pantomime – with green and red lighting and skull warrior dancers that King Rat would be proud of. The songs included are great but disappear during the second act to be replaced by more classical numbers as the show suddenly begins to take itself even more seriously, which didn’t seem possible before the interval.

Knights of the Rose is a weird and woeful hybrid of low budget 1950s “Merrie Olde England” films and a particularly ill-judged themed episode of Glee. Not bad enough to be brilliant. Just bad.