Knights of the Rose

"Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon" (II Samuel 1:20) is a line that does not appear in Knights of the Rose. It’s surprising really: it would have been a suitable recitation following defeat on the battlefield. With bromance in the air King David’s lament for Jonathan would not have been out of place ether, given that the adoption of the former’s tactic of sticking the person you want to dispose of at the front of the battle came in handy. However, the coherence of that scenario would have gone completely against the grain of this dire concoction.

It is no more successful than the attempts of medieval alchemists to produce gold

Clearly those stories were not on the curriculum when creator Jennifer Marsden pieced this contrivance of childhood recollections together. As she says, "Many of the poetic quotes used in the dialogue were memorised from school days or from my love of poetry and verse over the years". Clearly she has a good memory and extensive research skills. In the programme, “Literary References (in order of appearance)” take up three pages. There are eighty seven of them with just under thirty coming from the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare. Others whose works were pillaged include Chaucer, Marlowe, Omar Khayyam, Kipling, Marvell, Byron, Wordsworth, Keats, Dylan Thomas, Capellanus, Abraham Lincoln, Longfellow, Henry James and many more.

Music credits number a mere twenty seven. Amongst them, Bon Jovi is a clear favourite with Blaze Of Glory; Blood On Blood; Always; Bed Of Roses and This Is Love, This Is Life, but epic songs from Black Sabbath, Bonnie Tyler, The Hollies and Uriah Heap also contribute to the potpourri. Numbers from Mozart and Purcell give a period ring, despite a century’s separation. There’s even an Irish folk song. To prove that the Knights also picked up some foreign culture while rampaging around the battlefields of Europe there is a pub-scene rendition of Je Cherche Après Titine. Not wishing their knightly credentials to be in doubt, there is also a devout rendition of the medieval Templars’ Crucem Sanctum Subit, which seemed rather inconsistent following an earlier appeal to the power of the gods.

It’s as well that the vast array of material is thus catalogued and acknowledged otherwise this literary hotchpoch would have been an unadulterated act of monumental plagiarism, a crime that Marsden, as a barrister, would no doubt be anxious to avoid. As it is, the eloquent words of the the world’s literary greats are simply abused, bastardized and taken out of context on a level that only priestly absoluton might forgive. Her selection of quotations would make a demanding quiz night of naming the author and the work and arguably be more fun, especially with music bonus rounds thrown in. Meanwhile, back on stage song cues proceeded from the interesting to the predictable, through the contrived to the embarrassing and ultimately to those that induced laughter.

In true literary tradition, Knights of the Rose requires a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Details of the storyline are not worth outlining here: just make something out of knights, princesses, battles, lovers, family rivalry, localised bawdy behaviour and death, then put a narrator in charge. What is hard to imagine is how the work must have passed through so many hands without someone calling a halt to it and why director and choreographer Racky Plews ‘was truly inspired’ when she first read the script and ‘jumped at the chance’ to work on it.

There is no quality of authorship, no evidence of play-writing skills and no originality here, which is perhaps why Marsden styles herself as ‘creator’. Any consolation that might derive from the ability of the band and cast to belt out some resounding tunes or from the actors to give worthy performances is rapidly eroded by the overwhelming cringeworthiness of this folly. It is no more successful than the attempts of medieval alchemists to produce gold.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Romance of the Rose Productions has announced the world premiere of a new West End musical created by Jennifer Marsden, Knights of the Rose, an epic medieval tale featuring a timeless playlist of classic rock songs. Headlined by five unforgettable Bon Jovi masterpieces and accompanied by much loved songs from Bonnie Tyler, Meatloaf, No Doubt and more, Knights of the Rose finds court at The Arts Theatre from Friday 29th June – Sunday 26th August. 

In this epic tale of betrayal, love, bloodshed and redemption, the noble Knights of the Rose must defend their House and their honour. Even as the chivalrous knights return from a glorious victory, a greater threat against the kingdom stirs. As they face the greatest battle of the age and betrayal threatens to tear them apart, can true love and honour triumph?

With rich interwoven literature from Marlowe, Shakespeare and Chaucer mixed with legendary classic rock music; Knights of the Rose is a glorious fusion of popular culture, evocative of Game of Thrones and Bat out of Hell. This high-voltage musical of Shakespearean proportions charges its way into the heart of London on 29th June, for 9 weeks only.

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