It’s been more than thirty years since the last professional production of Blondel in London and this contemporary interpretation brings a welcome hipster edge to the medieval musical.
It’s prescient too. This is a musical about the rich exploiting the poor, about greed and corruption. Even the good guys aren’t really the good guys and our hero Blondel is well meaning but a bit hopeless. The story’s fairly convoluted with crusades, kidnaps and assassins, but luckily a quartet of brilliantly witty harmonising monks keep us on course.
Blondel (Connor Arnold) is stuck. He’s been a troubadour for years but without artistic acclaim or money. His lover Fiona’s patience is wearing thin. While Blondel struggles to find his voice, and make his fortune, Fiona (Jessie May) knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to demand it. She’s a feminist, and activist and she aspires to more. Her demands lead to her being taken along on King Richard’s latest crusade and to Prince John being left in charge of England in his absence.
There are some exceptionally strong scenes in this production, not least when Neil Moors King Richard and James Thackeray’s Prince John go head to head. Thackeray’s John is a fierce blend of Trunchbowl meets Joffrey via Alan Cumming. Moors as Richard is a charismatic narcissist, completely likeable and completely reproachable. Both are a joy to watch.
The group scenes are also incredibly well choreographed by Chris Whittaker. There’s not much space on the Union Theatre stage but every inch of it is used fully and often with wit and invention. There’s almost never a static moment, and that helps to keep the production alive and to bring the audience along on the journey.
Director (Sasha Regan) and the cast have worked their musical socks off. They’ve completely updated the entire feel of the show. It’s contemporary, sexy and even a tiny bit radical. It’s a shame that Blondel’s such a hopeless hero. This version sees him as an idiot pop-star wannabe writing suck up songs to the monarchy. It’s hard to believe that Fiona would give him a second glance. In fact, there’s a strong argument that she is the real hero of this story. But then again, maybe there are no heroes here. Maybe that’s part of the point – and would explain the running Robin Hood gag.
Blondel is never going to be hailed as Tim Rice’s best work. Some of the songs are great, but some of the best songs feel squeezed in, and don’t add much to the plot. But this production has an energy and a point of view – and the cast are super-talented. Definitely worth catching whilst it runs at the intimate Union Theatre.
Review by Roz Wyllie
When King Richard announces that he’s off on a Middle East Crusade to give Saladin a piece of his mind (and sword), the struggling court musician Blondel is forced to stay behind to write songs in praise of the King’s evil – and ambitious – brother, Prince John. Worse still, Blondel is separated from his sweetheart Fiona, who has been press-ganged into the King’s of cial crusade dry cleaning dept. However when Richard is captured by the murky – and rather cunning – Duke of Austria (just before the interval), Blondel decides to embark upon a pan- European adventure to save his King, Fiona, and England. An irritable assassin, a proto-Robin-Hood and a quartet of monks all aid and/or hinder Blondel’s efforts to write himself both a place in history and love song to dedicate to Fiona.
Tim Rice said: “I’m delighted Blondel is returning to the stage. It was one of the most enjoyable projects of my career, and I’ve always felt Stephen Oliver’s wonderful music deserved a larger audience than it reached back in 1983 when the show first ran. I hope this new production at the terrific Union Theatre will please old fans and some new ones.”
Blondel – Connor Arnold
Martha – Courtney Bowman
Assassin – Michael Burgen
Mabel/dance captain – Lauren Byrne
Monk – David Fearn
Monk – Ryan Hall
Monk – Oliver Marshall
Fiona – Jessie May
Blondel’s Mum – Katie Meller
Monk/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
Music Co-ordinator – Pete Hobbs
Assistant Director – Jonathan Tweedie
Assistant Musical Director – Oliver George Rew
Assistant Designer – Jamie Simmons
Casting Director – Adam Braham
PR – Kevin Wilson
Production Photographer – Paul Nicholas Dyke & Scott Rylander
LYRICS By Tim Rice
MUSIC By Stephen Oliver
BOOK By Tom Williams & Tim Rice
ADDITIONAL MUSIC Mathew Pritchard
Produced by Aaron Rogers & Sasha Regan for Union Theatre, Donald Rice for Heartaches Limited
21st June – 15th July 2017