Tag Archives: Oliver Savile

Dreamboats and Chainmail Coats

KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE

The Arts Theatre, London, Thursday 12th July, 2018

 

The jukebox musical is a long-established genre and a lucrative one (when it comes to the likes of Mamma Mia!) taking the back catalogue of an artiste or a period or a genre and shoehorning songs into a paper-thin plot.  Here, show creator Jennifer Marsden goes a step farther by shoehorning quotations from classical literature into the dialogue.  And so we get swathes of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Chaucer, along with Tennyson, Blake, Burns… The programme has three pages listing literary references… The overall effect, apart from showing how adept Marsden is at cutting-and-pasting, is perhaps not the desired one, as ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ give way to song lyrics in which characters refer to each other as ‘Baby’.  That clunking sound may not be the scenery being manoeuvred into position but the gear change in your mind as we lurch from period to period.

What this means is Name That Tune collides with Place That Quotation, keeping us at a distance from the characters and the unfolding drama.  Moments of emotional impact are therefore diluted by our, what Brecht would call, alienation from what’s unfolding.  Any engagement we have is with the performers, all of them working hard to keep this balloon in the air, and all of them wildly impressive.

Everything is played straight.  To spoof it up would give us another Spamalot.  To give us another Camelot, the show would need an original score.  No, Knights of the Rose is definitely its own thing.

Leading the cast as Prince Gawain is former-Hollyoaks star Andy Moss, who proved his mettle as a vocalist in a recent nationwide tour of Ghost.  Moss here proves himself more than capable of delivering rousing speeches to his troops – next stop, The RSC? – and he does his best with a character that has no flaws or self-doubt, or anything to get his teeth into.  He gets a couple of Bon Jovi numbers to belt out, so all is well.

Oliver Savile is floppy-haired Sir Hugo, the romantic lead, singing pop, rock (and later, classical) with a clear, sweet voice.  His rival Sir Palamon (in this performance, played by Ian Gareth Jones) brings musical theatre intonations to the rock songs, along with a meatier stage presence.  Matt Thorpe’s Sir Horatio does extremely well with his songs in a high register, while Ruben Van Leer’s humble John perhaps has the purest, most searing voice of all.

Van Leer sort of narrates, linking scenes together with recitations of verse.  He speaks with feeling and clarity but there are perhaps too many of these, keeping John out of the action, commenting on it (sometimes tangentially) rather than taking part, and slowing things down for the rest of us.

Katie Birtill’s Princess Hannah and Rebekah Lowings’s Lady Isabel, supported by handmaid Emily (Blue Woodward) provide a couple of the show’s highlights, absolutely killing Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero and Total Eclipse of the Heart.  The vocals are superb, and the staging by director Racky Plews gives us 1980s rock video.  Plews blends modern choreography with period moves, and so we get Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale meets Heath Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale.

Bringing gravitas to the piece are Adam Pearce as Aethelstan and Rebecca Bainbridge as Matilda, King and Queen, two more mature players in this young cast.

There are moments of brilliance.  A stylised battle, complete with horses’ heads and animated rain, is evocative and effective.  A medieval chant, from Adam Pearce’s King Aethelstan, reverberates with drama as well as his beautiful bass baritone…

The creative choices are audacious, at turns bemusing and gobsmacking, but it’s the performers that give us the enjoyment, that sell us this hodgepodge and we like it.

How to fix it?  Me, I’d start lighter, to give more time for us to get attached to the characters and accustomed to the style before the action proper kicks in.  The transitions from poetry to rock song should be smoother, rather than speedbumps in the way of our engagement.  And give us a song we can sing along with for a more rousing finale.

Somewhere within in all this is the potential for a great show.  As it is, it’s a lot of fun – as a rock concert cum poetry recital delivered in fancy dress.

KOTR_Photographer-Mark-Dawson_Cast-Andy-Moss-e1530864313750

Gawain down in a blaze of glory… Andy Moss (Photo: Mark Dawson)

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Purrr-gatory

CATS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 20th March, 2013

 

I like cats.  In fact I even wrote a book about one (cheeky plug) but I can’t spend too much time with them because of allergies.  But as I approached this ‘musical’ where the whole cast is playing cats, I anticipated no discomfort or adverse reactions.  I’ve been wrong before.

The set is rubbish.  But this is entirely intentional.  It’s a tip, a dumping ground – objects and litter (the rubbish kind not the kitten kind) have been scaled up, larger than life, so that the performers appear reduced to cat-size.  The rubbish spills out across the apron and over the pit.  It’s an impressive installation.

The music strikes up with a discordant, fairground-like tune and a flying saucer lights up and takes off, leaving us in this post-apocalyptic landscape where human/cat mutants cavort and dance and sing.

And that’s about it.

There’s a big opening number setting the scene.  They are something called ‘jellicle cats’ apparently.  The stage is full of performers, dressed in variations of the cat theme: plain, spotted, striped.  Big hair and legwarmers ground the show in the decade of its making.  They’re all bloody good,  Let me make that clear: there is not one of them who is not top drawer.  I will mention a few who stood out and whom I was able to identify beneath all their face paint.  Ben Palmer impresses as Munkustrap right from the outset; Barnaby Thompson and Katie Warsop are a fun double act as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer; Oliver Savile’s Rumtumtugger and Joseph Poulton’s Mr Mistoffelees deserve special mention.  In fact I could staple the cast list to this review and pat them all on the head.

The performers aren’t the problem.

The problem is the show.

It’s like a jukebox musical except rather than shoehorning pop songs into a storyline, here the poems of T S Eliot are very loosely linked in a framework that doesn’t really go anywhere.  What we get instead is a parade of characters who come on, sing about themselves or have themselves sung about, and then off they go so the next can come on.  It’s all exposition and no development.  It’s like announcing the arrivals at a function and making a song and dance about each new guest.  It’s all gong and no dinner, and shallower than a litter tray.

Nothing happens.

There is a moment where there is the potential for drama.  An old bag-ladylike cat shambles on in a matted fur coat and looking the worse for wear.  The bright young things shun her and scratch her until she shambles off again.  This is Grizabella (the superb Joanna Ampil) and she gets the best music and gets to belt out the show’s only hit, Memory.  So more fool them.  After their rough treatment of Grizabella, I was less inclined to enjoy the prancing about of the rest of them.  I was striving to engage emotionally with any of them and I sided with the underdog, so to speak.

But still, nothing happens.

For the benefit of an old fat cat, they stage a re-enactment of a skirmish between some dogs.  Later in the second act, an old theatre cat reminisces about his former life and we get an extended fantasy sequence in which they’re all pirates.  This would be fine as an interlude, a play-within-a-play along the lines of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in The King & I – but there is no main plot to begin with.  This is more of the same but in different costumes.

Speaking of Uncle Tom, by the time we get to Skimbleshanks the “railway cat” I have had enough.  This cat works for his human masters and is rather smug about it.  I don’t give a toss. But on it goes.  More new characters.  More singing and dancing in that egocentric manner you  get with rappers, singing about themselves in the third person.  Shut up, I thought.  Stop it.  Do something else. Tell a joke. Pull a gun on someone – anything!  Just please, do something different.  Yes, you’ve got a great voice.  Yes, you’re very nimble.  But please, make something happen.  I begin to panic.  I wonder where the fire alarm button is.  Or the number of a good vet.  I just want it to end.

No!  Stay on the stage!  Get back on the stage! Keep away from me!  Let’s have just one more reprise of Memory and let that be an end to it.  Please!  I’ll be a good boy from now on.  Just make it stop.

Aaaaaargghhh…

cats eyes