“The show did not give off a slick West End musical vibe, rather it radiated a pantomime like energy”
Knights of the Rose is a new musical created by Jennifer Marsden and directed by Racky Plews. The musical is a take on many of Shakespeare’s romances mashed together to 80s pop rock, set in a Camelot style kingdom, with the focus characters being members of the house of Rose. Royalty and knights alike.
I arrived with no expectations for this show. My first thoughts, was that it seemed laboured. The show did not give off a slick West End musical vibe, rather it radiated a pantomime like energy. With laughter arriving in unexpected places, I was unsure if it was supposed to be funny, or if the corniness of the music became too much for the audience. However the cheesiness of 80s pop rock, was matched well in some moments with the melodramatic Shakespearean style and narrative. The story mashed up all of Shakespeare’s great love stories, and threw in some Macbeth and Lord Byron. The literary references were a nice concept, however occasionally executed sloppily. An ailment that plagued a few different aspects of the musical.
I was surprised to find out after I’d seen the show, that it was created and directed by women. As the narrative was so male centric, and the most empowering moment for the three main female roles, was when they sang ‘Holding out for a Hero’ – a song about finding a man. However, the performances by the three main women, Katie Birtill, Rebekah Lowings and Bleu Woodward, who played Princess Hannah, Lady Isabel and Emily respectively were fantastic. All three had a brilliant presence on stage and very powerful voices. And despite my qualms about the song, it was one of my favourite moments of the evening.
Andy Moss, Chris Cowley and Oliver Savile were worthy counterparts as Prince Gawain, Sir Palamon and Sir Hugo respectively providing a dark yet charming aura to the piece. A special mention has to be made for Matt Thorpe, Sir Horatio and Ruben Van Keer, John, who both portrayed very endearing characters with beautiful voices. Thorpe was particularly powerful in his number ‘Always’
The performance by the cast, and musicians was fantastic. However it was let down by the fact that I didn’t know what it was trying to do. And I don’t think the show did either. It had a lot of ideas, and almost falls into the trap of being ‘too much’, especially in production value in this case. All said and done It was an enjoyable evening, even if it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test.
Making its West End debut, twenty-five years after it opened Off-Broadway, “Ruthless! The Musical” tells the story of eight-year-old Tina Denmark who will do anything to play the lead in her school play. The publicity material describes it as an all-female camp killer cult classic. It doesn’t take long to realise that the description is as tongue in cheek as the show itself. It may have achieved cult status across the pond, but ‘classic’ is stretching the gag too far. And it’s not even all-female with one of the characters being a man in drag.
What it is, though, is an audacious, over-the-top spoof of the dark side of ‘showbiz’; the world of pushy stage-mothers and precocious youths desperate for stardom, unscrupulous agents and sadistic critics. There is an almost surreal quality to its silliness that begs the audience to go along with it. It is not easy to go with the flow, however, as it tries far too hard to be irreverent.
The cast do give it their all in some robust performances, and they all embrace the fact that they are depicting caricatures rather than characters. This knowing wink to the audience brings us on their side but we can only support this allegiance so far. All too soon the fun is spoilt by the relentlessly force-fed humour. The tone remains on one level throughout and only when glimpses of the actors’ own expression shows through do we get another dimension. Tracie Bennett brings a breath of fresh air as the drunken theatre critic with the poison pen, Jason Gardiner is sinisterly camp as the unscrupulous agent and Kim Maresca gives a plausible portrayal of the pushy mother to Anya Evans’ eight-year-old wannabe. In fact it is Evans who seems to get the satire the most.
Joel Paley’s lyrics are sometimes witty, but Marvin Laird’s score lacks variation. Again, there are a couple of exceptions that stand out; the ensemble title tune, ‘Ruthless’, but most notably Kim Maresca’s solo number, the quite tender ‘It Will Never Be That Way Again’ which is a welcome departure from the normally shouty delivery of the other numbers.
The programme notes suggest that this revival be perceived within the modern concept of ‘Time’s Up’, and asks how the presentation of powerful women might change once women are “calling the shots”. A touch vainglorious, but maybe that’s ironic too, given the trigger-happy nature of the heroine. Unlike her, though, this show misses the target. Morgan Large’s fabulous set and costume create the right atmosphere, with the expectation that we’re in for a real party. But the overall feeling is one of being cornered at that party by the over enthusiastic host. Or rather hostess.