Knights of the Rose, the rare West End jukebox musical with actual A-list songs, had potential – touting the promise of reimagined classic rock tracks from Bonnie Tyler, Bon Jovi and Gwen Stefani, set in a medieval fantasy. It does not deliver.
A spin on an Arthurian tale, the plot drags along at a glacial pace as a cast of interchangeable, one-dimensional characters recite stilted dialogue, which is peppered with seemingly-arbitrary Shakespeare and Chaucer quotes in a futile attempt to create the illusion of depth.
The show drags itself down countless dead ends to satisfy the content of pre-existing lyrics, leaving a web of half-finished and frankly unremarkable B-plots and love stories. The best of jukebox musicals put their own creative stamp on classic songs, but here the songs are the only thing doing the stamping.
Love – having had a fair few songs written about it – is central, but modern it is not. The show is heteronormative, pale, male and stale, with an all-white cast that is surely indefensible in London in 2018.
If Hamilton is the story of America then told by America now, then Knights of the Rose is the story of Little England then told by Little England now. The set is rickety, the content uninteresting, and the direction a total mess.
On several occasions while transitioning into songs, cast members appeared unsure whether to play things straight or for laughs – leaving a number of apparently-earnest moments that were met with audible groans and laughter from the audience.
It takes a lot to get a London theatre audience to turn on you. To get them to actually laugh with derision moments after a pivotal death scene is another matter entirely.
If there are any positives about this unknowingly-ridiculous show, it is this: The music is quite good, if you can just get past everything else.
The songs are mostly well chosen, arranged and performed – though even musically there were poor decisions, such as squandering “Holding Out for a Hero”, surely a natural climactic Act One finale track, for exposition five minutes into the show.
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Muse’s “Survival” is the clear stand-out song, re-imagined to brilliant effect, while Bon Jovi’s “Always” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” were highlights musically if-not-narratively.
The talented cast do a valiant job despite what they’ve been given to work with, like the crew of a sinking cruise ship. They deliver adept performances even as they are undermined at every turn by the show.
Katie Birtill, who plays the doting Princess Hannah, is definitely wasted here, as is Ruben Van keer, who manages to inject enough charisma to make his sometimes-narrator John the only likeable character.
Knights of the Rose smacks of huge potential undermined by terrible decisions. Make a better decision – by going to see something else.