Knights of the Rose, a brand new jukebox musical featuring the hits of Bon Jovi, Meatloaf and other rock legends, certainly made its presence known in London as it crossed Tower Bridge on horseback earlier this week. Sadly the show itself doesn’t quite live up to that majestic entrance, with a confused identity despite nice performances.
In this epic tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice, the noble Knights of the Rose must defend their House and their honour. Even as the chivalrous Knights return from a glorious victory, a greater threat against the kingdom stirs. As they face the greatest battle of the Age, and betrayal threatens to tear them apart, can true love and honour triumph?
The problem with this show is that it is billed as a serious musical, an ‘epic tale’, yet shouldn’t be taking itself seriously at all. The script is full of wordy, literary references and quotes that start to glaze over you after a while when said with complete conviction. The marriage of jukebox musical and Shakespearean text just confuses the kind of night you are expecting! The mish-mash of ‘rock’ songs – this term should be used loosely to describe a set list that includes an Enrique Iglesias number – are so cliche the audience laugh when each one starts up. A girl near me cried with laughter while watching a death scene long enough to rival that of Mimi’s in Rent, all hysterically set to REM’s Everybody Hurts.
I can’t help feeling it had an identity crisis at creation. It needed to be either a tongue-in-cheek parody with a cringey jukebox soundtrack or a show that take itself seriously and have an original score. The current clash just doesn’t work and if the production had constantly poked fun at itself I would likely be writing a very different review, not cringing at my memory of the night out.
Many of the other elements of the show are mostly up to scratch. For the Arts Theatre they have done well with a set that creates multiple locations with ease while making the stage look bigger than I have ever remembered it. The costumes are nice although need to decide whether they are entirely medieval or deliberately a nod to modern rock (why have the men in tight black jeans if the girls are in full period dress?) The lighting needed work though – often cutting off action or not catching it in time.
The cast is certainly qualified too, with many West End and touring stars providing some nice vocals. Diction generally is not good. I could barely make out some of the words (and not all of us know every lyric to Bon Jovi classics). Although for a show that focuses on knights and warfare, it’s the girls who steal the show, although I enjoyed Ruben Van Keer’s performance as the budding knight/narrator. Rebekah Lowings (Lady Isabel), Katie Birtill (Princess Hannah) and Bleu Woodward (Emily) are the trio of dreams, shining individually while also giving a masterclass in harmony together.
Sure, it brought in a slightly different crowd, with an audience akin to that of Bat Out of Hell, but do we really need another unoriginal jukebox musical that takes itself seriously? Alas, my answer is no. It’s awkward, confused and a mockery for all the wrong reasons. Adapt the script, change the direction and this could be the hilarious, spoof jukebox that is the talk of the town.
Sadly instead it’s the show that provokes silent laughter when the characters argue through Gwen Stefani’s Don’t Speak…
The show will be at The Arts Theatre, London until 26 August.
Tickets thanks to London Box Office. You can buy tickets for the show from their website.