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Knights of the Rose review at Arts Theatre, London – ‘a wince-inducing medieval musical’

Chris Cowley, Andy Moss, Ian Gareth Jones and Oliver Savile in Knights of the Rose at Arts Theatre. Photo: Mark Dawson
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A medieval romance set to rock songs sounds a bit silly on paper. But instead of leaning into that silliness, and embracing the ridiculousness of songs like Total Eclipse of the Heart or Enrique Iglesias’ Hero, this show by barrister Jennifer Marsden remains doggedly po-faced.

Apparently there is a plot. Unfortunately there is a script. Loads of dialogue, in fact, written in cod olde fashioned language, overwrought to the point of nonsense, a wonky patchwork of quotes from Chaucer, Shakespeare and Byron with added thees, thous and thithers.

The setting is notionally medieval – stone effect painted clumsily onto the wobbly set – as a group of knights fights a rival kingdom and tries not to die so that their pining princesses can marry them.

The women are either bar wenches or princesses, while the men are knights. Men sing about fighting and dying, women about how much they love their man. It is impressively regressive.

Under Racky Plews’ direction there are some moments of choreography that make good use of the small stage. But there is also a lot of plastic sword waggling, and some really basic horse puppets. Not to mention the wedding DJ playlist.

Although the band is excellent and the cast mostly great, particularly Oliver Savile as Sir Hugo and Chris Cowley as Sir Palamon, many of the songs are pitched too high, so their voices can’t shine.

The smallest hint of recognition of its own ridiculousness would go a long way. But this is that special kind of bad: earnest, without a mite of self-awareness, and wasting the time and talent of a decent cast – all white by the way – which is unacceptable.

Very few shows elicit a genuine toe-curling wince. This one does it in almost every scene.


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Toe-curling medieval romance set to rock ballads