/Knights of the Rose: the Arts Centre (2018)

Knights of the Rose: the Arts Centre (2018)

I’ll freely admit that there are parts of Knights of the Rose that I absolutely adore. Firstly, let me be clear: I am a big fan of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, works by Shakespeare, nay… I enjoy classical music (Henry Purcell, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi) and opera. So, for me, seeing productions with period costumes and dialogue equivalent to old English doesn’t offend me, at all. Despite what the majority of the critics have said about Knights of the Rose, I found myself thoroughly entertained throughout the official press night, and that was, perhaps, because I spent more time enjoying myself and seeing the craft in writer, Jennifer Marsden’s rock musical, as opposed to finding ways of picking holes in this new production.
Matt Thorpe, Ruben Van Keer, Adam Moss, Chris Cowley, Kelly Hampson and Bleu Woodwar. Photographer Mark Dawson.

Marsden has introduced an entirely brand new ‘jukebox’ musical that attempts to merge popular culture and rock music with Shakespeare and Chaucer, all at the same time, and that’s not an easy job. Director and choreographer, Racky Plews took Marsden’s writing and made a bold production out of her ideas, utilising puppetry and thrilling fight scenes. The creative team also poured their individual talents into this production, from set and costume designer Diego Pitarch, lighting designer Tim Deiling and Puppet Director Hal Chambers. Showing now at West End’s the Arts Centre, even for a medium-sized stage a lot happens and this is down to the sheer level of talent, quality and excellence on stage.

Rebekah Lowings. Photography Mark Dawson.
Knights of the Rose, as one would expect, is a tale about love, power, war, death and knights in shiny armour. The medieval knights: Sir Palamon (Chris Cowley), Hugo (Oliver Savile), Horatio (Matt Thorpe), Prince Gawain (Andy Moss) and John (Ruben Van keer) enter the stage in shining fashion with swords thrown in the air as they sing to Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’. Key performers of the evening go to the vocal talent, which were surprisingly excellent considering how tough it is to sing songs originally sung by Bon Jovi. The same is true for the princess, Queen and their fellow maidens. Rebecca Bainbridge (Queen Matilda), Bleu Woodward (Emily), Katie Birtill (Princess Hannah) and Rebekah Lowings (Lady Isabel) gave high-spirited singing and ravishing performances particularly for challenging songs including ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt and ‘Holding out for a hero’ originally sung by Bonnie Tyler.
This is steeped with music superbly executed by electric guitars, drums and bass by the band, on stage, including Mark Crossland, Nick Kent, Chris George and Josh Carpenter. These vital players shouldn’t go unnoticed and deserve as much recognition. The rest of the cast including Tom Bales and Ian Gareth-Jones play significant parts too. And Adam Pearce, with his rendition of ‘What power art thou’ from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur, gives an evocative and touching performance as King Aethelstan.
Chris Cowley. Photographer Mark Dawson.
Now, referring back to my interests in the many genres Marsden has combined here, I have to applaud Marsden for attempting to do something entirely unique and challenging as this. (It took her eight years! as she told me in an interview.) That said, people in the audience will know of the song list (Bon Jovi, Enrique Iglesias, Adam Langston, etc,), which, as I saw on the press night, caused some to laugh while others to sing along. I was part of the latter group, simply because I love these songs – I was raised in the 80s. Therefore, watching Knights of the Rose is a bit of a game (or gamble) of seeing which rock song will come along and fit into these emotional and dramatic scenes. Yet, sadly some people felt the need to laugh at the stage, rather than show some respect.
Andy Moss. Photographer Mark Dawson.
I would say to the laughing audience: instead of attempting to fixate on what this musical is about, or what it stands for (or whether it “is this the most epic rock musical?”), just ask yourself if you enjoyed the talent on stage. For me, the songs stood out and I took the entire performance for what it was. I had a good night. Sorry to those who didn’t. However, the main problem I take issue with is that the show seems more of a rock music medley or gala event as oppose to a musical. Although there are many great intentions here, it may not work to call the production a musical as it uses rock music created by established artists. But imagine what Knights of the Rose would be like if it had its own songs and music?
So, to those who are still unsure: listen to one, two-star reviews if you want, or try and see it for yourself. Perhaps forget the tag line ‘epic rock musical’ and see what the show is about with your own eyes. Personally, I’d rather make the decision for myself, especially if I was a Bon Jovi fan (which I am). But that’s just me and, as we know, everyone is different.
Rebekah Lowings and Matt Thorpe. Photographer Mark Dawson.

Knights of the Rose is now showing at the Arts centre until 26 August. Tickets available online here.

(I was given a press ticket to review the show.)

(Header image: Photographer Mark Dawson. Ian Gareth Jones, Chris Cowley, Andy Moss, Tom Bales, Matt Thorpe and Oliver Savile.)