THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE

I saw Knightmare Live again and wrote about it again and you can read of this below.

Are Thursdays the new Fridays? They wish. You can't blame a day for trying - and short of rebranding itself as the 'pre-kend', Thursday has tried everything. But once they moved Knightmare to Fridays from Series 3 onwards, that was it. As The Cure so damningly put it, "Thursday, I don't care about you. It's Friday I'm in love." But in October, Thursday made its most valiant attempt yet to seize the crown by playing host to the most recent theatrical performance of the nostalgic privilege that is Knightmare Live.

Getting to the venue was a quest in itself, requiring no less than the crossing of a busy road. I made this doable not by jaywalking or even jaysidestepping but by treating the crossing as my sprite of energy: when the man turned from red to green, by Life Force was restored and I could proceed safely. The traffic was doing something similar with the traffic lights, so everyone was getting into the mood for Knightmare. And once I was across the road, preparing to return to childhood, the destination wasn't distant. Thursday's child did not have far to go.
 
The venue, according to my ticket, was the Bloomsbury Theatre in London town. I thought about the last time I'd set foot in this theatre. It was November 2002: the month when news broke that Challenge TV would be repeating Knightmare for the first time. Eleven years on, having shown all eight series at least once, Challenge has finished with it for now (barring the First Episode reshowing scheduled for late December) and we can only desperately hope it will revisit Knightmare before long. In the meantime, there I was, ready to revisit Knightmare Live. Since I last saw it during its preview phase just three months earlier, it had gone north to Edinburgh, south to Brighton and charmed the hosiery off reviewers, casual nostalgia-trippers and devout Knightmarians alike. I had no doubt that a great evening was in store but wondered what the differences would be between that early show and this one.
 
 
The first difference impacted before the show even started: the atmosphere. When I watched Knightmare in the '80s and '90s, I had no doubt that everyone should be watching it but couldn't quite grasp that in living rooms near and far, kids I would never meet were watching Knightmare in their own Friday bubbles - and in their millions. The preview show I saw proved that 19 years on, there were enough other Knightmare fans about to fill a room above a pub, which felt good. Yet here I sat, about to watch Knightmare in a room big enough to hold over half a thousand watchers, and it was full. Me, a couple of friends, hundreds of strangers, no stereotypes, all here to see Knightmare (a)live. That felt more than good, and was no less than the Greater Game deserves. Tim Child and Hugo Myatt were in the audience for the previous month's Bloomsbury show and I hope they were proud.

There were changes in the cast. Where before there was Amee Smith, there is now Jessica Fostekew. She's noted on Twitter that 'to say it's a joy to be involved in is an understatement' and this is evident in her joyously uninhibited portrayal of her characters. And with Tom Bell unavailable, Ray Bullock Jnr took his parts, including Lord Fear. Just as Mark Knight had been a tough act for Tom Bell to follow, Tom was a tough act for Ray to follow, but Ray was everything that Lord Fear needed to be: charismatic, sardonic, ruthless, the eyeshadowy Yang to Treguard's bearded Yin. If you get Ray instead of Tom when you see the show, you won't feel short-changed.
 
Paul Flannery as Treguard remains the highly entertaining lynchpin of the show, in command of both the organised chaos on stage and the watchers. I kept wondering whether the comic mayhem would force him out of character, even slightly, but it didn't. A hammy parodic Treguard would not have been tolerated, yet a straight pastiche of Hugo Myatt's Dungeon Master would have been pointless after all this time. But for my well-spent money, Paul has found a happy medium. When Treguard invited our questions, he was asked what he'd been doing for the last 20 years. His reply: "Reading your letters."
 
Whereas Knightmare Live previously had just the one goblin, now it has, to quote Treguard in Series 3, "a goblin squad of four or more". As well as being handy for scene shifting on a larger stage, this increased the opportunities for physical comedy and offered the best chance yet for Lord Fear to deliver the opposition he promised in Series 6: bigger, bolder, badder and better equipped to turn dungeoneers into goblin fodder. This may be why one review of the Brighton show put the goblins before Treguard and Fear. Foremost among the goblins was Binki, now the subject of fanfiction (good fanfiction) and a dedicated Twitter account.
 
But it was another character who caused more of a stir on Twitter than any other. At one point, I had identified two bags of Galaxy Minstrels in the general vicinity. (My first rule of theatre-going: know where the emergency exits and chocolates are.) These turned out to foreshadow a minstrel on stage, played by Matt Highton, who made a lasting impression:
 
'I have now seen a bit more of @MattHighton then I wanted to. Those are some tight tights' @samuelfurniss
 
'I can still see those tights when I close my eyes...' @Angela_Barnesy
 
'I'll never be able look a radish in the face again' @johnfromsoho
 
'hahaha... But tragically true.' @MattHighton
 
The show-stealing power of men in tights: just one more reason to see Knightmare Live. No mention on Twitter of this minstrel's muscial ability; he couldn't eclipse Matt Blair, whose compositions and arrangements sounded better than ever.
 
The fully expected changes, key to why Knightmare Live rewards multiple visits, were the contestants. In an unintentional nod to the infamous quest of Akash's team, which had been first seen exactly 25 years ago that night, we had a male dungeoneer and an all-female panel of advisors: David McMenemy, Pippa Evans and Angela Barnes. David was successful in finding that dungeoneering balance between moving his feet obediently and thinking on them. The best example of the latter was a modest gesture with a mirror that went against expectations and got him a well-earned round of applause. He treated the quest both as his adventure and as ours, as indicated by the waves and thumb-ups he would give when he reentered the stage for a new room. Angela and Pippa got into the spirit too, as you can see from their tweets:
 
'So, @KnightmareLive is poss the most fun I've had on stage.@IAmPippaEvans and I were a dream team, apart from the whole left and right thing' @Angela_Barnesy
 
'Great fun @KnightmareLive - mainly realising that myself and @Angela_Barnesy disagree on which is left and which is right.' @IAmPippaEvans
 
While they didn't make any mistakes as momentous as misreading 'potion' as 'poison', they did have a habit of mishearing quest objects: Crown as Crab, Sword as Saw. But they brought out the best in their dungeoneer, from a display of zumba moves to playing the xylophone like Sebastian the Crown from The Little Mermaid. And even when not speaking, they were archetypal advisors, as shown when they froze in position at the start of the interval and stayed that way until the goblins took them offstage. If you like losing, challenge them to a game of musical statues sometime.
 
2013 has been an unprecedented year for Knightmare newness, with the release of the first ever official web episode under the auspices of YouTube's Geek Week. Knightmare Live's own Helmet of Justice ended up being used in the episode. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the exchange of resources had run both ways. Knightmare Live teams now have their own sprite of energy in the form of Geek Week Knightmare's Life Force clock, which I'd only fully seen running backwards before now. The bomb CGI from Geek Week Knightmare (seen when Ariadne was creeping up on Stuart) made an appearance too, on a large screen behind the set. Refreshingly, the flame didn't dance back down the fuse as it did all too often on Knightmare.
 
I can't deny a detailed knowledge of Knightmare, meaning that I did pick up on a factual error here and there. Wall monsters are still being referred to as wall demons for some reason; Treguard claimed that no one ever died in a bomb room, yet bomb rooms ended almost as many quests as the Corridor of Blades; by my count, the dungeoneer reached the end of Level 1 with four objects in his hands. If I had let these bother me, I'd have been overlooking what Knightmare Live is all about.
 
In his Darkchat interview, Paul Flannery explained how 'Knightmare Live changed dramatically during the Edinburgh Festival run, we came to discover it's actually an improv show of sorts. We started expanding on character play and doing less call backs to the original show.' While it was a shame to lose these callbacks - especially the mention of Mogdred that I thought had made a very effective plot point during the preview show - it did highlight the confidence that Flannery & co have developed in their own approach, and that is no bad thing. Olgarth and Mistress Goody from the preview are now an unnamed wall monster and an anonymous crone. It wasn't an issue.
 
Audience participation is still central to the Knightmare Live experience. Here it was stepped up a gear from the preview: Lord Fear was so unimpressed with the Level 1 clue table choices that he looked to the audience for new ones. So it was that dungeoneer David proceeded with a sparkly hat thing and a "Charlie and Lolo" activity book. At another point, Treguard had a brief Q&A with two actual Knightmare contestants sitting in the stalls. I think he wanted to compare this quest with theirs, but there wasn't time. They revealed only that they had died on Level 2 due to "youth". Which team were they from? All I can say is that I didn't detect any Welsh accents, so not that team.
 
Knightmare Live aren't the only ones who have helped to raise the profile of Thursday in 2013. The Pet Shop Boys and Example wrote a song about it. "It's Thursday night. Let's get it right." Did Knightmare Live get it right? Not entirely. Unforeseen hitches included hooks for the tavern sign being absent, David catching his horns in the doorways, Binki appearing without his face on, Lord Fear's bracelet breaking, Treguard's spell prompting several sound effects before the correct one was heard and David exiting through an "impenetrable thicket". I can only repeat my sentiments from the preview review: 'They didn't matter. They were simply extra jokes within the performance, and us watchers were in on all of them.'

Perhaps the most disappointing change for me was the absence of the show's end credit video, which at the preview had comprised an amusing Lord Fear photo montage, names and acknowledgements. I hope it will return. Alternatively, they could mint some programmes.
 
My favourite changes were the partial ones. There's still a tavern on Level 1, but this time it was playing host to a pub quiz. I liked this idea a lot. The Room of Blades was still there too, but had been rejigged since the preview to pose a far less predictable threat in this larger staging area. Presumably the merciless blades were also responsible for the incident photographed here. Therein lies a sign that Knightmare Live is now at rest. But the dungeon will reform. Roll an eye at Knightmarelive.com for news on when and where!
 
I enjoyed Knightmare Live the second time at least as much as I had enjoyed it the first time. Whether or not you've already seen the show, I highly recommend swapping your armchair adventuring for the theatre-seat thrill of this show, on a Thursday or any day. In other words, "Take that trip down memory lane".
 
[Photo credits: Natalie Hansen, Ray Bullock Jnr, Paul Flannery]

Share this

DiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditNewsvineTechnorati