“I’m a fool…just a fool”
There’s something admirable in the Union Theatre’s admirable determination to work its way through the dustier, neglected end of the musical theatre canon to see if anything comes up roses. I liked what they did with Anyone Can Whistle, less so with Moby Dick, and now its the turn of the lesser-known Tim Rice musical Blondel (the first he wrote after his Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborations) to get the revival treatment.
Sometimes though, when polishing a pebble in the hope that it turns into a diamond in the rough, it remains a pebble. Sasha Regan’s high-spirited, fun-loving production has a wonderfully playful energy about it, and the cast are clearly having a whale of a time, but it isn’t too hard to see why the show has rather languished in obscurity. Daftness can only take you so far (believe me, I know!) and Blondel (over-)runs at 2 hours 30 minutes.
Set at the time of the Third Crusade (1189, keep up) where the titular troubadour finds himself on an unlikely rescue mission across Europe for his beloved king Richard the Lionheart, Blondel’s plan is to sing his biggest song outside every castle in Europe so that Dicky can sing back to him and thus reveal where he is. Like I said, it is silly and mostly fun – there’s just way too many songs stuffed into the score which drags things out unnecessarily.
It’s also nowhere near as funny as it seems to think it is, making Regan’s direction veer a little too close to panto at times. Is this a bad thing? It’s hard to tell as there’s a ton of good performances here lapping up the broadness (Michael Burgen, James Thackeray), vocal strength too (Neil Moors), and real musical talent in the form of the harmonising quartet of monks (David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall and Calum Melville). Enjoyable but not essential.