Pleasance Theatre, London • 30 December 2006 • 2:30pm
Music: Stephen Oliver. Book & lyrics: Tim Rice.
Directed by Patrick Wilde. With Chris Gierson (Blondel), Abi Finley (Fiona), Mark Inscoe (King Richard), Matt Harrop (Prince John), Napoleon Ryan (The Assassin)…
I’d have laughed heartily had anybody told me five years ago that I would one day be able to see a full-scale production of Blondel. But there it is: the Pleasance Theatre, a rather large Fringe theatre, has revived what is usually described as “the first show Tim Rice wrote after Lloyd Webber.”
Blondel is mostly considered as a historical curiosity, and its cast album is described as a cult-ish memorandum of a not-too-good show. And yet, I thought the show worked pretty well if you see it for what it is: a freewheeling, unabashed comedy that relies heavily on anachronisms and wordplay to entertain. At that game, it fares infinitely better than, say, Spamalot, a somewhat comparable show which founders under its own silliness.
Stephen Oliver’s music is varied and catchy, feeding itself on numerous influences. And, surprise!, Tim Rice’s lyrics seem a bit more inspired than in his previous works. There is real joy in lines like these from the “Assassin’s Song:”
They were tortured in the orchard.
(It was messy with fruit but I have improved since then.)
Other songs like “No Rhyme for Richard” or “Saladin Days” are pretty clever, too.
The uniformly excellent cast also contributed a lot to making this an enjoyable performance. I particularly liked the villains: Matt Harrop as Prince John and Napoleon Ryan as the Assassin — but villains are usually dream parts, for some reason.
I found that the fun wore off a bit during the second act and I started looking at my watch a bit… but this production of Blondel will remain as an unexpectedly pleasant experience in my memory.