Review: Knights of the Rose, Arts

Less a rock musical and more Now That’s What I Call Music 1066, Knights of the Rose at the Arts Theatre threatens a return to the dark ages 

“Would you tremble if I touched your lips?
Or would you laugh?”

The website for Knights of the Rose leads with the quote “is this the most epic rock musical?” and bold as that is, well, the answer is most definitively no. That  much is evident from the start as a bunch of medieval knights start doing some slo-mo running on the spot as they return from war. But even as they dream of the ale to be drunk, the Bon Jovi songs to be sung, the wenches to be laid and other such Olde Worlde fare, a Knight’s lot is never done and a new battle upends their world once again. Sacrifice! Betrayal! Bonnie Tyler! In a time when Bat Out Of Hell can come back, maybe the rock musical is having a moment.

But wait, what the hell is Enrique Iglesias doing in here? Not only is ‘Hero’ a fantastically misjudged choice of song, the way in which its first line is used to lead into the track snaps you right out of the world of the show, as evidenced by an audience rolling in the aisles. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a theatre this year made all the more so by the fact that it was not meant to be at all hilarious.  An edited snippet of No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ feels similarly incongruous, ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’ pops up in a po-faced moment and overall, as the playlist starts to sound like Now That’s What I Call Music 1066, you begin to worry for the identity of this show which ultimately takes the idea of being a rock musical as seriously as fancy dress. Continue reading “Review: Knights of the Rose, Arts”

Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)

“No use permitting some prophet of doom”

Cabaret is a show which has had many a revival and many a cast recording made from those productions but it is Rufus Norris’ 2006 interpretation that seems to have lingered the longest, a new touring version starring Louise Redknapp and Will Young starts at the New Wimbledon in late September, one of many such revivals of this revival (I caught it in the West End in 2012 and the 2013 tour). And just to be clear, my comments are UK-based, for it is Mendes’ 1993 production that was most recently revived in the US (which I saw with Emma Stone at Studio 54).
And I have to say I love this particular cast recording – the sharpness of David Steadman’s musical direction is captured brightly and well on the record, and the performances sound pointed and fresh, a real testament to the recording process here. It’s a strong cast to be sure, led by the canny decision to cast Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role of Sally Bowles. By no means a predictable choice, the decision to go for a shit-hot actress who can really focus on the character elevates the role entirely from all Liza Minnelli-based connotations and its notions that the role should be belted.
For the point is that Sally isn’t the strongest performer and it takes skill to play those rough edges with confidence and from ‘Mein Herr’ to ‘Perfectly Marvellous’ to the glorious blank-eyed hollowness of the title track, Maxwell Martin nails it. Such a strong sense of this Sally emerges from every number and that is no mean feat, especially with so iconic a role. James Dreyfus also impresses with his take on the Emcee, finding his own way past the equally bold incarnations offered up by Joel Gray and Alan Cumming.
I particularly loved Sheila Hancock and Geoffrey Hutchings as the ill-fated Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More’ is a real highlight due to their chemistry. It’s also fun to see names like Alastair Brookshaw and Kaisa Hammarlund in the company. It’ll be interesting to see what comes from this new production – Will Young is returning to the role of the Emcee so he should be fine but Louise Redknapp is untested in the world of musical theatre and it will be fascinating to see how her acting and singing capabilities respond to the challenge.

Review: Grimm’s Tales – Shoreditch Town Hall, London

“If my mother tells me not to leave the path again, then that’s what I’ll do”
A shoebrush becomes a baby hedgehog, a repurposed umbrella a mournful songbird, a coil of rope Rapunzel’s long tresses. For the eight people roaming the nooks and crannies beneath Shoreditch Town Hall, anything they find can be co-opted into their storytelling, as they give us their versions of Grimm’s fairy tales, although some will be more familiar than others. And it is not strictly their version, as Philip Wilson’s production uses Philip Pullman’s adaptation of the stories to weave a subtle kind of magic.
The show describes itself as immersive, but it is a gentler kind of immersion than most, probably better described as site-responsive. For the audience are split into two groups and taken on a journey from room to room, through five performances which draw us into their orbit, yet ask little of us but our attention (in case the notion of interaction causes any anxiety). And it is hard not to be enchanted as the company weave their spell through the darker stretches of the imagination – happily ever after doesn’t always seem guaranteed in this world.
And what a gorgeous world it is. Tom Rogers’ hugely imaginative design is just wonderful, space after space has been dressed with loving attention to detail, suggesting the stories we’re seeing and also hints of others too. A room with beds for seven, a spinning wheel with the sharpest of needles and a corridor lined with mirrors are just some of the nods towards the wider world of these stories. Howard Hudons’s lighting gathers clusters of flickering lightbulbs to beautifully evocative effect and the costumes, also designed by Rogers, have a fabulously inventive make-do attitude.
Which sets up the stories well. They’re told as Pullman wrote them, the performers splitting the narrative voice between them which adds a propulsive tension which is always fascinating – the enthusiasm of Rapunzel’s prince against the slinky weariness of the witch holding her captive for instance. And there’s no shirking the sharper edges of death and loss that permeate so many of them – The Juniper Tree has definite moments of horror, The Three Snake Leaves has a real melancholy to its soul – the dynamism of their telling meaning nothing lingers too long though.
The free-flowing ensemble is excellent too. Warmly engaging, their direct eye contact is always inviting rather than challenging, as they guide us deeper and deeper into this strange land. They all get their various chances to shine – Rebecca Bainbridge’s poise as a kindly princess, Ashley Alymann’s bounteous king and James Byng’s plaintive little boy remain in the mind but the star of the evening is undoubtedly Simon Wegrzyn. A heartbroken soldier, an all-too-seductive wolf or the captivating lead of Hans-my-Hedgehog, he is certainly one to watch.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 24th April