Book & lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Stephen Oliver & Mathew Pritchard.
3 Stars ***
The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 LO3 to 15 July 2017.
Tues- Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm/
Runs 2hr 20 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
A horrible history musical
Tim Rice is obviously attached to this flimsy little musical which he wrote with Steven Oliver in 1983. It opened at the Old Vic, ran for eleven months there, moved for a few more to the Aldwych, closing due to, it seems, high production costs – which means people just were not going. A medieval tale about Blondel, the travelling musician who went in search of Richard the Lionheart, captured by the Austrians on his way home from the Crusades, and finding him by playing a favoured song outside his prison cell, it is pleasant enough but is it worth reviving? The answer on the evidence of this revival is no.
It is all very slight, not half as clever as it thinks it is, a kind of Horrible Histories come 1066 And All That with a touch of early Backadder look at the past , the sort of show terribly bright young things writing a university revue come up with. While it passes the time, it would pass the time rather better if several of the cast could sing and the words being sung could be heard.
The score, well played by a rather good band, by Stephen Oliver and Matthew Pritchard is pleasant but nothing lingers in the memory, although the lyrics sound as if they might be funny because when one can hear them they are. But only Neil Moors as the King knows how to project a song.
That Connor Arnold as Blondel is not much of a singer is probably part of the joke, although as he was played by Paul Nicholas in the original production maybe not. Billed as medieval England’s rock star he lumbers through the affair pleasantly enough, more rock than star, and fatally lacks charm, whileJessie May as Fiona, his feminist activist girlfriend, one of the many anachronistic jokes, although pretty has the tiniest voice imaginable. Behind a sheet of tissue paper she would be impossible to hear.
Director Sasha Regan lets far too many of the cast stand way back on the acting area when to be heard they patently need to be down front facing the punters. Since it is her theatre she must know its weaknesses when it comes to placing people.
There are, however, some good things – the four monks who narrate and frame the tale, singing a capella rather well, are amusing; a good running joke about Robin Hood, a lanky funny Craig Nash, not getting a look in; Michael Burgen managing to get some laughs out of an assassin planning to kill the king forced to travel with the undeniably thick Fondle, as everyone calls him, and listen to his dreadful song; and a dizzy dance captain in Lauren Byrne who holds the eye and gets a laugh with her one line.
Sir Tim, in the press night audience, laughed heartily throughout and clearly enjoyed seeing his show brought back from the dead – more or less. But Blondel proves to be not a lost treasure but a harmless affair in which everyone at the Union works very hard to little effect.
Blondel: Connor Arnold.
Martha: Courtney Bowman.
Assassin: Michael Burgen.
Mabel: Lauren Byrne.
Monks: David Fearn, Ryan Hall, Oliver Marshall, Calum Melville.
Fiona: Jessie May.
Blondel’s Mum: Katie Meller.
Archbishop: Calum Melville.
King Richard: Neil Moors.
Man in Green: Craig Nash.
Sylvia: Michaela Stern.
Prince John: James Thackeray.
Saladin/Duke of Austria: Jay Worthy.
Director: Sasha Regan.
Choreographer: Chris Whittaker,
Musical Director: Simon Holt.
Designer: Ryan Dawson Laight.
Lighting Designer: Iain Dennis.
Assistant Director: Jonathan Tweedle.